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Myth and Religion 
of the North 

The Religion of Ancient Scandinavia 




Library of Congress Cataloging in Publication Data 

Turville -Petrs, Edward Oswald Gabriel. 

Myth and religion of the North. 

Reprint of the ed. published by Holt, Rinehart and 
Winston, New York. 

Bibliography: p. 

Includes index. 

1. Mythology, Norse. 2. Scandinavia- -Religion. 

I. Title. 

[BL860.T8 1975] 293' -0948 75-5003 

ISBN 0-8371-7420-1 

VxV‘~W'- / \ 

* 2551069268 * 

Filozoficka fakulta 
Univerzity Karlovy v Praze 

Originally published in 1964 by Holt, Rinehart and Winston, New York 
Copyright © 1964 by E.O.G. Turville-Petre 

Reprinted with the permission of Holt, Rinehart and Winston, Inc. 

Reprinted in 1975 by Greenwood Press 
A division of Congressional Information Service, Inc., 

88 Post Road West, Westport, Connecticut 06881 

Printed in the United States of America 

10 9 8 7 6 5 




Introductory — Old Norse Poetry — Histories and Sagas — 

Snorri Sturluson — Saxo Grammaticus 


God of Poetry — Lord of the Gallows — God of War — Father of 
Gods and Men — ( 5 dinn and his Animals — Odinn’s Names — 
Odinn’s Eye— The Cult of Odinn — Woden-Wotan 


Thdr and the Serpent— Thdr and the Giants — Thdr’s Ham- 
mer and his Goats — The Worship of Thor— Thdr in the 
Viking Colonies — Thdr-Thunor — Conclusion 


The West Norse Sources — Saxo — The Character of Baldr and 

his Cult — Continental and English Tradition 

V LOKI 126 



The War of the JSsir and Vanir — Njord — F r eyr-F rddi-N er- 
thus-Ing — Freyja 


Tyr — UI 1 — Bragi — Idunn — Gefjun — Frigg and others 



Ermanaric, Sigurd and the Burgundians — Starkad — Harald 
Wartooth — Hadding 


The Disir — Fylgja and Hamingja — Elves, Earth-Spirits, 







XV DEATH s6 9 



NOTES 287 


INDEX 33 1 




In Old Norse Ip has the value of th unvoiced ; 6 has that of 
th voiced. Q expresses a sound between a and 0. 

The asterisk is used to show that the form of the word is 
hypothetical or reconstructed. 



1 Scene from Rogaland Photo : University Museum , Oslo 

2 Helgafell Photo : Gudmund Hannesson, Iceland 

3 Thdrsmork Photo : Gudmund Hannesson, Iceland 

4 Thingvellir Photo : Gudmund Hannesson, Iceland 

5 Burial mounds at Uppsala Photo: AT A 

6 Church of Borgund Photo : University Museum, Oslo 

7 Carved head of man Photo : University Museum, Oslo 

8-1 1 Animal heads from the Oseberg ship-burial Photos : University 
Museum, Oslo 

12 Image of female figure Photo : National Museum, Denmark 

13 Image of a man from Rallinge Photo : AT A 

14 Miniature figure from Iceland Photo : National Museum, Iceland 

15 Bronze image probably of Th6r Photo: National Museum, Iceland 

16 Image, supposedly of Thor’s hammer Photo : National Museum, Iceland 

1 7 Thdr’s hammer Photo : A TA 

18 Crucifix from Birka Photo : AT A 

1 g Bedpost from ship-grave of Gokstad Photo: University Museum, Oslo 

20 Animal head from the Scheldt Photo : British Museum 

21 Rune stone from Altuna Photo: AT A 

22 Carved stone from Hunnestad Photo : AT A 

23 Rune stone from Sonder-Kirkeby Photo : National Museum, Denmark 
24-7 Picture stones from Gotland Photos : A TA 

28 Rune stone from Eggjum Photo : University Museum, Bergen 

29 Rune stone from Ledberg Photo : A TA 

30 Rune stone from Rok Photo : A TA 



31 Tapestry from the Oseberg grave Photo : University Museum , Oslo 

32 Rune stone from Ramsundsberget Photo : AT A 

33-4 Wood-carvings from church of Hylestad Photos : University Museum, 

35 Wood-carving from Austad Photo: University Museum, Oslo 

36 Panel or cart from Oseberg grave Photo : University Museum, Oslo 

37 Panel on cart from Oseberg grave Photo : University Museum, Oslo 

38 Cross slab from Isle of Man Photo : Manx Museum and National Trust 

39 Wood-carving from churches of Umes Photo : University Museum , Oslo 

40 Reconstructed grave Photo : National Museum, Iceland 

41 Grave objects from Ketilsstadir Photo : National Museum, Iceland 

42 Handle-seating of bucket from Oseberg grave Photo: University Museum 


43 Gold foil from Rogaland Photo : University Museum, Bergen 

44 Gundestrup bowl Photo : National Museum, Denmark 

45 The Oseberg ship Photo : University Museum, Oslo 

46 Gokstad burial chamber Photo : University Museum, Oslo 

47 The Oseberg cart Photo : University Museum, Oslo 

48 The Dejbjerg cart Photo : National Museum, Denmark 

49 Bucket from the Oseberg grave Photo : University Museum, Oslo 



Many years of experience as a teacher have shown me how strong is 
the interest in the pagan religion of the north, although no survey of 
it has been published in English for many years. The literature of this 
subject in other languages is enormous and consists, for the most part, 
of monographs, often published in learned journals. I have had to 
content myself with mentioning only a small part of this literature, and 
that to which I am especially indebted. Outstanding modern works are 
those of J de Vries and of G. Dumezil, to which reference will frequently 
be made in the following pages. Many have disputed the revolutionary 
conclusions of Dumezil, but the significance of his keen observations 
cannot be questioned. It is not too much to say that this scholar has 
restored our confidence in the validity of Norse tradition as it is ex- 
pressed in the literary records of Iceland. In quite another way the 
studies of the late Magnus Olsen, who has investigated Scandinavian 
place-names in the light of ancient literature, have been no less im- 

I am indebted to scholars, not only for their published works, but 
also for advice and for the long discussions which I have had with them. 
Among many, I would particularly like to name Einar <5l. Sveinsson, 
of Reykjavik and Dag Stromback of Uppsala, both of whom have 
listened patiently and criticised my views. 

Joan Turville-Petre has helped me untiringly and made many sug- 
gestions which have influenced my work, and David Wilson of the 
British Museum has helped me with the illustrations, and so has my 
friend Dr. Kristjdn Eldjarn. I can hardly say how much I owe to Pro- 
fessor E. O. James, General Editor of this Series, for his encouragement 
and criticism. I am indebted also to Miss G. Feith for the care with 
which she has made the index. I would like finally to thank the Pub- 
lishers and Printers for the work which they have done on a book 
which is in many ways difficult. 

Oxford E. O. G. Turville-Petre 


1 . 






Introductory— Old Norse Poetry — Histones and Sagas — Snorri Sturlason— 
Saxo Grammaticus 


The religion of the ancient Norsemen is one of the most difficult to 
describe, indeed far more so than are the older religions of Rome, 
Greece, Egypt, Israel, Persia or India. Reasons for this are not hard to 
appreciate. The followers of these southern religions could express their 
own thoughts in writing, and left hymns, myths and legends, but the 
pagan Norsemen knew little of writing. 

In its obscurity, the Norse religion has much in common with that of 
the neighbouring Celts. Both of them have to be studied chiefly from 
poems and traditions written down generations after the pagan religion 
had been abandoned. The Celtic traditions were enshrined largely in 
the literature of medieval Ireland, and the Norse ones mainly in texts 
written in Iceland in the twelfth and especially in the thirteenth cen- 
tury. As Ireland was the storehouse of Celtic tradition, Iceland pre- 
served that of the north. In other words, tradition survived longest on 
the periphery. 

The history of Iceland is thus of some importance for the present 
study, and an extraordinary history it is. The first permanent settle- 
ment on that barren island was made late in the ninth century. The 
settlers came partly from the mixed Norse-Celtic colonies in Ireland 
and the western isles, but mainly from western Norway. Their chieftains 
left their homes, not for conquest, but rather, as medieval writers per- 
sistently tell, for political reasons. They wished to preserve their tradi- 
tional, patriarchal way of life, rather than submit to the centralized 
form of government introduced by Harald Finehair (c. 885), for this' 
was alien to them. 1 This may partly explain why the Icelanders pre- 
served northern tradition as no other nation did. 

The Icelanders adopted Christianity in the year 1000, so that paga- 
nism flourished among them for little more than a century. They began 



. -/ 

to write history early in the twelfth century and, in the course of the 
Middle Ages, they put down in writing, not only the traditions of their 
own people, but also those of other Scandinavian lands. The proven- 
ance and reliability of their work will be the subject of the following 
sections. For the present it must suffice to say that without the Icelandic 
texts, our knowledge of Norse heathendom would be but a fragment of 
what it is, and the myths, which will fill so large a part of this work 
would be practically unknown. 

I remarked that the* pagan Norsemen knew little of writing. Never- 
theless, they possessed an alphabet which could well have been used 
for writing texts on parchment. In fact, the runic alphabet, as it is 
called, was used only for carving inscriptions on stone, metal and wood. 

The origin of this alphabet has not yet been decided, but it shows 
affinities with Latin, Greek and other European alphabets. 2 It was used 
throughout the Germanic world, and the oldest inscriptions found in 
Scandinavia are thought to date from the beginning of the third century 
ad. These early inscriptions are generally short, consisting of a word or 
two, or a name, or sometimes of groups of letters which defy interpreta- 
tion, although they must have had a meaning for the masters who pains- 
takingly carved them. | 

The runes were said to be divine (regi?ikudr ) s ; Cdinn had acquired 
them, as it seems, from the world of death, and they had a mystical 
force. Their significance becomes plainer as time draws on. The in- § 

scription of some 200 runes found at Eggjum, in western Norway, and 
said to be written early in the eighth century, is plainly magical in con- 
tent. A recent scholar claims to find a direct allusion to OSinn in it. 4 
The stdne from Rok in Ostergotland (Sweden) belongs to the early 
Viking Age and contains some 700 runic symbols. 6 It was set up by a 
father in memory of his son. It is partially in verse, and is thus a rare 
record of pre-Christian Swedish poetry and, indeed, of heroic tradition. 

Towards the end of the pagan period, we find inscriptions over graves 
in which a pagan deity is invoked directly in such terms as Porr vigi (may j 

Th6r hallow, protect). 6 

The place-names of Scandinavia, studied in conjunction with the 
literature, are especially informative. From the point of view of religious 
history, those of Norway have been sifted most carefully, and particu- 
larly by M. Olsen, 7 to whose books and papers I shall frequently refer. 

Swedish place-names of religious interest have also been studied in some 
detail, 8 and provide much evidence of heathen cults, while those of 
Denmark are also valuable. 9 The place-names of Iceland, none older 
than the late ninth century, tell much about the distribution of temples 
and the worship of certain gods, of whom Th6r was the foremost. 1 0 

2 I 


Philologically many of the place-names are difficult to interpret, but 
one of their chief values is that they show something about gods and 
their cults before the Viking Age, when Iceland was peopled and our 
oldest poetic records took shape. They also show how eminent were 
some of the gods and goddesses, such as Ull (Ullinn), 11 Horn (identified 
by Snorri with Freyja) who, for us, are only shadowy figures. Occa- 
sionally they preserve names of gods and goddesses of whose existence 
we should otherwise hardly know. Place-names also show how one god 
might be worshipped with another, or perhaps a god next to a goddess, 
and how some gods were favoured in one region and others elswhere. 
Much can also be learnt from place-names about the distribution of 
temples and more primitive places of worship at various ages. 12 

No branch of Norse study has made greater advances in the last 
century than the archaeology of prehistoric times, and the findings are 
proving of ever-growing value for the study of social conditions, art and 
religious history. 

Interpretation of the various objects discovered must be left to 
specialists, but so many useful handbooks are available 13 that even a 
layman can form some ideas about their meaning. 

Undoubtedly the finds give some insight into religious concepts of 
prehistoric periods which fall outside the scope of this book. J. Maringer, 14 
in the present series, has described the rock-carvings and paintings of 
the so-called Arctic Stone Age and considered their relations with the 
older, naturalistic art of paleolithic Europe. The objects so naturalis- 
tically depicted by Stone Age artists are chiefly animals, especially 
reindeer and elk, occasionally bears and sometimes whales and fishes. 

This is the art of a hunting people, and it is agreed that its purpose is 
either religious, magical or both. By naturalistic drawing man could 
gain power over his quarry; he might also invoke the deities who ruled 
the animal world. 

Some believe that this arctic art derived from the palaeolithic art of 
western Europe. Comparison with the art and practices of modern 
arctic and other primitive peoples may gradually explain its meaning. 
In short, it must be said that it is not yet possible to trace any link be- 
tween it and the Old Norse religion with which we are now concerned. 

The gradual introduction of agriculture, say 3000 bc, inevitably led 
to a more settled form of life, and a changed religious outlook. Gods of 
the hunt must give way to gods of the soil. The Megalith graves, evi- 
dently introduced from abroad in the third millennium bc, probably 
implied changed views about life after death. Whole families were in- 
terred together, generation after generation. Probably they were thought 
to live on in their dead bodies, much as they had done in this life. 



A conception of this kind, of the living corpse, was widespread in 
Scandinavia in the Viking Age, but it cannot be known whether the 
beliefs of the Megalith people had any historical relations with those 
of the classical Norsemen. They could well have developed inde- 

The so-called Battle-axe people invaded Scandinavia from the south 
and south-east, probably early in the second millennium bc. They 
were so-named from their characteristic weapon, and changed the 
civilization of Scandinavia radically. Megaliths gave way to single 
graves, again implying changed beliefs about death. The invaders 
blended with the Megalith people, until a unified culture was established. 

Whatever their predecessors may have been, many specialists believe 
that the Battle-axe people were Indo-Europeans. 15 This means that 
they spoke an Indo-European language and had adopted something of 
the culture which has come to be called Indo-European. 

Even if this is doubted, it is plain that an Indo-European people 
overran Scandinavia in prehistoric times. The original home of the 
Indo-Europeans is still disputed, but we may well believe that, before 
their language split up into its divergent groups, they had certain re- 
ligious concepts which developed differently among different peoples. 

This may have some importance for the study of Norse religion. 

J. Grimm 18 and many succeeding scholars have been astonished by 
certain similarities between myths of the Indo-European world from 1 

India to Iceland, and some of the religious practices resemble each 
other too closely to be explained by chance. Scholars have thus been 
led to think of a common Indo-European inheritance. It must, how- 
ever, be allowed that the religious conceptions of the different groups of 
Indo-Europeans were influenced by those of other cultures with which 
they came into contact. 

It is not known that Scandinavia suffered any major invasion after 
that of the Battle-axe people, and it may be supposed that there has 
been a certain cultural continuity since that time, although trade and 
travel kept the way open to foreign influences. 

Such influences led to the Bronze Age, covering the period from 
about 1500 to 500 bg. This age was one of great wealth, especially in 
Denmark, as is shown by the priceless treasures which survive. For the 
study of religion, the rock-carvings are of greatest interest. 17 They are 
found over a wide area, particularly in Sk&ne and coastal districts. 

They are in many ways unlike the beautiful pictures of the Arctic 
Stone Age. Little attempt is made to reproduce nature, and there is 
little art. The figures are drawn schematically and the motives are very 
varied. 1 


It would be rash for any but the specialized archaeologist to attempt 
to interpret these stylized pictures, but the absence of artistic en- 
deavour may, in itself, give evidence of religious purpose. The most 
common of the figures depicted are ships, which are often surmounted 
with trees, and especially discs. Sometimes groups of men are seen to- 
gether with one several times their size. Men are depicted swinging 
axes, fighting and shooting bows. Some men support circular objects. 
Marriage scenes are depicted and ithyphallic figures are common. The 
impression of footprints is also much favoured, while ploughs and 
ploughmen provide common motives. 

If, as is now generally supposed, the pictures are religious symbols, 
they must belong to a people who lived largely by agriculture. The discs 
and concentric circles, whether supported by men, ships or standing 
alone, are thought to represent the sun. The ship, sometimes carrying a 
disc, could be carrying the sun over the sky, but it may also turn our 
thoughts to the numerous ships buried in howes and the descriptions of 
ship funerals from later ages. It could be bearing the dead to the Other 
World. In fact, there is little contradiction in this, for as I shall attempt 
to explain in later chapters, death and fertility are hardly separable. 

The pictures of the Stone Age did not provide clear evidence of belief 
in personal gods, although this is not to deny that they were wor- 
shipped. There is greater reason to believe that the pictures of the 
Bronze Age reflect such beliefs. We see little men, sometimes accom- 
panying a big man, generally ithyphallic, and sometimes carrying an 
axe. The big man may represent a god, and the tool may be a symbol of 
his divine power, even the forerunner of Thor’s hammer, bringing 
thunder and rain. The footprints may be those of a god, believed to 
have been present on one or another occasion. The sun-discs and other 
objects depicted on the rocks may thus be symbols of the sun-god and 
of other divinities. 

There are many other finds dating from the Bronze Age which must 
have a religious meaning. These are commonly precious objects planted 
in bogs or pools, as if as votive offerings. Among the most remarkable is 
the famous disc from Trundholm, in Zealand, dating from the early 
Bronze Age. 18 This consists of a richly decorated disc, standing on six 
wheels and drawn by a horse. The disc is, on one side, gilded. It may 
represent the sun and, if so, it represents a conception like that known 
from the Vafprudnismdl (strs. 12-14) and from later sources. The horse, 
Skinfaxi (Shining maned) is said to draw the sun, or day, over men, 
while another horse, Hnmfaxi (Frost-maned), is said to draw the night. 
Perhaps the gilded side of the disc represents day, and the other 




Heathen burial customs can be followed in detail to the end of the 
pagan period. These customs were undoubtedly founded on beliefs in 
the after-life, although the meaning may have been forgotten by many 
who practised them. In some cases they may even have been adopted 
as fashions from foreign lands, having little significance for the Scandi- 
navians. As Snorri 19 was well aware, inhumation alternated with cre- 
mation and, in some regions, the two went on together. The Viking Age 
was the richest in grave-goods and the most splendid of all graves was 
that found at Oseberg in S.E. Norway, dating from the ninth century. 
Besides the ordinary necessities of life, this grave contained a magni- 
ficent yacht, a decorated chariot, a bucket adorned with a figure like 
Buddha, elaborate tapestries and the bones of about sixteen horses. 
This woman, who was perhaps a queen, was well provided for her 
journey to the Other World. 20 The grave-goods of Iceland have lately 
been studied in close detail. 21 Poor as they are these throw consider- 
able light on conceptions of the after-life. 

The Indo-European language split up into its different dialects, and 
with these went divergent cultures. The Germanic dialect is thought to 
have developed during the first millennium bc, and its home is sought 
in northern Germany or perhaps in Denmark. We can now speak, 
although with certain reservations, of a Germanic culture and religion, 
practised by all peoples who spoke the Germanic dialect until their 
religion gave way to Christianity. The Goths who, according to their 
own traditions, had emigrated from Scandinavia and settled in south 
Russia, followed some of the same religious practices which we know 
from Scandinavian records of the Middle Ages. Sparse as the literary 
records are, we know that some of the deities worshipped were called 
by the same names in all Germanic lands. 

Among the closest neighbours of the Germanic peoples were, for a 
long time, the Celts, with whom their traditions had much in common. 
We may even suppose that some of the Celtic and Germanic traditions, 
such as those of Sigurd and Finn, developed in close proximity to each 
other. 22 

It was remarked that the Bronze Age was one of riches. The use of 
iron first became known in Scandinavia about 500 bc, and this was an 
age of poverty and deteriorating climate; it is likely that some of the 
northern regions of Scandinavia now became uninhabitable. There 
were probably political reasons for the decline in economy as well. The 
Celts had come to dominate the trade-routes of central Europe, thus 
isolating Scandinavia from the rich markets of the Mediterranean. 
Economic recovery hardly set in before the last centuries bc. 

It was during this time that classical authorities first showed an in- 



terest in the north. In the fourth century bc Pytheas of Marseilles had 
sailed round Britain and from Shetland he had reached ‘Thule’, prob- 
ably meaning Norway. Although Pytheas’s work survives only in the 
excerpts of later writers, it contains a number of observations on the 
geography of the north and the life of the inhabitants. Pytheas did not, 
as far as is known, describe the religious practices of the northerners. 

Caesar 23 made some general statements about the social organization 
and religion of Germans, but he was struck chiefly by the differences 
between them and the Gauls. The Germans had no druids and no in- 
terest in sacrifice, worshipping only gods whom they could see, the sun, 
Vulcan and the moon. Such remarks probably apply to Germans on the 
Rhine, and certainly present a one-sided picture of religious practice 
and organization. 

Tacitus in his Germania , written c. ad 98, presented a lucid picture of 
the civilization of continental Germans and threw some light on that of 
Scandinavia. It is now generally believed that he worked chiefly from 
older books, and especially from a lost Bella Germaniae of the Elder Pliny 
(c. ad 23-79), although he must also have gained information from 
merchants, soldiers and others who had penetrated Germany. 24 

Many of Tacitus’s observations on the religion of the Germans help 
to explain those of Scandinavia as they are described in later times. 
His description of the cult of the goddess Nerthus on an island in the 
north is of especial importance (see Gh. VII, Njord and Freyr-Frodi- 
fj Nerthus-Ing). 

As we approach the Middle Ages, the writings of the foreign obser- 
vers grow richer. The Gothic historian, Jordanes ( c . 550), 25 wrote of the 
history and traditions of his own people who, as he asserts, had come 
from Scandinavia. This slight history is an excerpt of a larger one 
# written by Gassiodorus (r. 490—580), which is now lost. Cassiodorus, in 

his turn, followed older historians, most of whose work has perished. 

Rimbert (died 888), priest and afterwards bishop, described the 
|! journeys of the missionary Anskar (died 865) among Danes, and especi- 

| ally Swedes, first in 82g and again about the middle of the ninth cen- 

tury. 26 Although hagiographic in tone, the Vita Anskarii contains valu- 
able observations on Scandinavian heathendom. In his History of the 
Bishops of Hamburg {c. 1070), Adam of Bremen wrote especially of 
Swedish paganism, giving detailed accounts of festivals, sacrifice and 
of the glorious temple of Uppsala. 27 

Vernacular writers of the Viking Age told of Norse heathens who had 
invaded their lands. Foremost of these are the English and Irish 
chroniclers. The Nestorian Chronicle throws some light on the prac- 
tices of Norsemen settled in Russia. Arab travellers of the tenth century 




also left interesting descriptions of Norsemen whom they had met in 
Russia in the tenth century. The most remarkable of these Arab writers 
was Ibn Fadl&n, who gave an unusually detailed account of a ship 
burial among Norsemen in Russia and of the beliefs which it expressed . 28 

The works of the foreign chroniclers are valuable because they 
described contemporaries, some of whom they had seen with their own 
eyes. But, in general, it must be admitted that few medieval foreigners 
took an objective interest in Norse heathendom. They regarded it as 
diabolical superstitition to be eradicated. 

Scandinavian scholars of the present century frequently allude to the 
practices of Finns and especially of Lapps, believing that these may 
throw light on those of their Scandinavian neighbours. The Lappish 
and Finnish practices have been recorded only in recent centuries, but 
some specialists believe that Lapps and Finns were influenced by the 
religion of the Scandinavians as early as the Bronze Age . 29 They could 
thus preserve features of Norse religion in a form older than we would 
otherwise know them. 

Popular practices, sayings and superstitions, which survive today, 
have been used by some scholars as sources of Old Norse religious his- 
tory. They may sometimes confirm the conclusions which we draw 
from older records, and I shall refer to them here and there. It is, how- 
ever, doubtful whether such sources have great independent value. 
Scandinavians, like other European peoples, suffered waves of foreign 
influences after they adopted Christianity. They were in contact with 
foreigners and they read books. 

Old Norse Poetry 

Among the richest sources for the study of northern heathendom are the 
poetic ones, many of which will be mentioned and some described in 
the following chapters, although a few introductory words should be 
said now. 

The Old Norse poetry is of various ages, but hardly any of it is pre- 
served except in manuscripts written in Iceland in the thirteenth and 
later centuries. It falls broadly into two classes, called the ‘Eddaic’ and 
the ‘scaldic’. Inappropriate as these terms are , 1 the differences between 
the two kinds of poetry will be discussed below. 

The Eddaic poetry owes its name to a small, unpretentious manu- 
script, commonly known as the ‘Elder* or ‘Poetic Edda ’, 2 in which 
most of the poems of this class are preserved. This manuscript was 
written in Iceland in the later decades of the thirteenth century, or 
about 13,70, but it derives from one or more lost manuscripts written 
early in that century . 8 In fact the name ‘Edda’ did not originally be- 



long to this book, but to Snorri’s Edda, which will be discussed later. 
It was first applied to the ‘Elder Edda’ in the seventeenth century. 

The Eddaic poetry is distinguished from the scaldic largely in its 
form. It is composed in three distinct measures, of which there are 
minor variants , 4 but all of them are rhythmical and alliterative, and 
the syllables are not strictly counted. The Eddaic poetry is thus of the 
same type as Old English and German poetry, as exemplified in the 
‘Fight at Finnsburh’ and the ‘Lay of Hildebrand’. 

In substance, and it is this alone which concerns us now, the Eddaic 
poetry is chiefly of two kinds, mythical and heroic. The one kind 
describes the world of gods, and the other that of such legendary heroes 
as SigurS, Helgi and Ermanaric. The distinction, mythical and heroic, 
may be found unwarrantably sharp. It will be seen in later chapters 
that some of the earthly heroes were originally divine, or lived against 
a background of myth. 

The poems about gods are, in their turn, of several kinds. Some of 
them are narrative, telling of the gods’ fates and adventures, and these 
may be compared with the heroic lays. Others are didactic and, in 
them, mysteries of the universe, of gods and men, their origins and end 
are disclosed. 

The most renowned of the divine poems is the Vgluspd (Sibyl’s Pro- 
phecy) . There is no poem in early Germanic literature of such scope. 
As presented, it is spoken by a sibyl ( vglva ) born before the world 
began. She addresses men and gods, and particularly Odinn. The sibyl 
tells about primeval chaos and its giants, the beginning of the world 
and of men. She describes the age of the youthful, innocent gods, 
their trials and corruption and finally the impending doom in the 
Ragnarok (Doom of the gods). 

Although the subject of the Vgluspd is pagan, few would now deny 
that it is coloured by Christian symbols, and particularly in the de- 
scription of the Ragnarok . 5 This had led to the conclusion that it was 
composed about the beginning of the eleventh century, when men were 
turning from the old religion to the new. 

While the Vgluspd stands supreme as a literary monument, it must be 
treated with reserve as a source of mythology. It has a logical unity 
lacking in many poems of the Edda. It must be judged as the work of a 
mystic, an individual who did not necessarily express views on the fates 
of gods and men which were popular in his time . 6 

Among the narrative poems, the Skirnismal (Words of Skirnir), telling 
of Freyr’s courtship of his bride from the giant world, will be much 
quoted in the body of this book. The Prymskvida will also be cited several 
times. This is a burlesque, telling how Thor’s hammer had fallen into 



the hands of giants. The giant (Thrym) would restore it only if he could 
have Freyja as his bride. Therefore the virile Thor must go to the giant- 
land disguised as ther goddess Freyja. There he recovered his hammer 
and overcame the giants. 

Two of the didactic poems, the Grimnismdl (Words of Grimnir) and 
the Vafprubnismdl (Words of Vafthrudnir) are especially valuable as 
sources of myth. Both of them are presented in frames, and Odinn 
appears in disguise. In the Grimnismdl , using the name Grimnir (Masked) , 
he comes to an earthly king Geirrod. The King, believing that Grimnir 
was a wizard, had him seized and tortured between two fires, where he 
thirsted for eight days until the King’s son took pity on him and brought 
him drink. In this state, the god spoke as if he saw visions. He described 
dwellings of many gods. Odinn’s own home, Valholl, is described in 
two passages of the Grimnismdl , and these are the only detailed accounts 
of it which survive in early poetry. Odinn later spoke of rivers flowing 
through the worlds of gods, men and the dead, and of the world tree, 
Yggdrasill, its roots and torments. He spoke again of the formation of 
the world out of the flesh, blood and bones of the giant Ymir. Finally 
the accursed King Geirrod fell on his sword and died. 

The Grimnismdl includes many beautiful strophes. In parts it may 
seem disjointed, and the text may contain some interpolations, but, in a 
perceptive study, M. Olsen 7 showed that it has a fundamental artistic 

unity. | 

The Vafprudnismdl is equally valuable as a work of art and as a 
source. The disguised Odinn visits the aged giant, Vafthrudnir, wishing 
to test his wisdom. First the giant asks Odinn a few questions about the J 

cosmos, and then god and giant settle down to a contest of wits, on 
which each wagers his head. 

It is Odinn’s turn to ask questions, and the giant answers seventeen 
of them correctly. He tells of the origin of earth, of heaven, moon, sun, 
of worlds of the dead, of life in Valholl, of the Ragnarok and its sequel. 

Odinn’s eighteenth question defeats him. He discloses his own identity 
by asking what Odinn had whispered into Baldr’s ear before he went to 
the funeral pyre. None but Odinn can answer this, and so the giant’s 
head was forfeit. 8 

Whatever its age, there is no reason to doubt the unity of the 
Vajprudnismdl. Whether the work of a devout pagan or of a Christian 
antiquarian, it is a short handbook of myth. 

In the Lokasenna (Flyting of Loki), gods and goddesses are assembled 
at a feast in the hall of the sea-god, dEgir, and Loki arrives uninvited. 

He hurls abuse at one after another ; he boasts of his own evil deeds and 
reminds goddesses of their illicit love-affairs, even with himself. While 


Loki’s abuse is often crude, it generally has a sound basis in myth. It 
was not without reason that he accused Freyja of incest (see Gh. VII, 
Njord and Freyja), and probably not when he boasted that Odinn has 
once been his foster-brother. 

Another flyting poem is the Hdrbardsljod, in which Th6r and Odinn 
confront each other. Odinn, this time under the name Hdrbard (Grey- 
beard), appears as a ferryman, while Th6r, on his way from the giant 
world in the east, asked for a passage over the water. The ferryman was 
stubborn and abusive, and the two gods began to boast, each of his own 
achievements. H&rbard boasted chiefly of his amorous successes, of his 
magical powers and of how he incited princes to fight. It was he who 
took the fallen princes, while the thralls were left for Thor. Thdr, in his 
turn, told how he had beaten the giants. The whole world would be 
peopled by them were it not for him. 

The particular interest of the Hdrbardsljod is that it emphasizes the 
differences between the two foremost gods of the hierarchy. On the one 
side stands the cunning trickster, Odinn, promoter of war ; on the other 
the valiant Thor, who protects our world from the giants. 

In the Codex Regius, the chief manuscript of the Edda, the title 
Hdvamdl is applied to a collection of about 164 strophes. In applying 
this title, the redactor showed that he regarded all of these strophes as 
the words of Odinn, the High One (Havi) . Whether he was right or 
wrong, it is plain that the collection includes some six poems, or frag- 
ments, about various subjects and of devious origin. 

The first eighty strophes of the Hdvamdl are not strictly mythical, but 
rather gnomic. They embody cynical rules of conduct such as we might 
expect in the Viking Age of a society in the throes of social and political 
upheaval (see Gh. XIV) . In other sections Odinn tells of his amorous 
experiences ; how one woman had fooled him, and how he had fooled 
another, robbing her of the precious mead of poetry (see Gh. II). In 
another section (Strs 138-145), Odinn tells how he hung for nine nights 
on the windswept tree, and thus acquired runes and poetry and much 
of his occult wisdom. Obscure as these strophes are, they give some in- 
sight into the mystical aspects of the pagan religion. 

The last section of the Hdvamdl (Strs. 146-63), the so-called Ljddatal 
(list of songs) consists of a list of magic songs of which the speaker is 
master. He can blunt the weapons of his enemies, break his bonds, 
turn a javelin in flight, get the better of witches and make the hanged 
man talk. In the final strophe the title Hdvamdl is used in verse, suggest- 
ing that it is correctly applied at least to this last section. 

As already said, the heroic lays of the Edda also contain much mythi- 
cal matter. This applies especially to the lays of the two Helgis, in which 


Cdinn and his Valkyries play a decisive part. 9 The so-called Sigrdrifu- 
mal (Words of Sigrdrifa), in which Sigurd awakens the sleeping Val- 
kyrie, contains gnomic utterances like those in the first section of the 
Hdvamdl, as well as a list of the magical uses of runes. Poems about the 
young Sigurd also present the hero as the favourite of Cdinn (see Ch. X) . 

If we could know the ages of the mythical lays and where they origi- 
nated, we should be better able to evaluate them as sources of religious 
history. As I have said, such lays are scarcely to be found except in Ice- 
landic manuscripts. Most of them are preserved in the Codex Regius 
of the later thirteenth century, and some in the related fragment 
(commonly called ‘A’) of the beginning of the fourteenth century. 10 

These manuscripts are commonly agreed to derive from one or more 
written in Iceland early in the thirteeth century. 

In recent years, the Norwegian scholar, D. A. Seip, has attempted to 
show that the manuscript sources, at least of many of the Eddaic lays, 
were Norwegian, and were written in the twelfth century. 11 Such a con- 
clusion, if accepted, would revolutionize our conceptions of the de- 
velopment of Norwegian and Icelandic literatures. Seip’s arguments are 
brilliant and persuasive, but few scholars have been able to agree with 
his conclusions. 12 

Probably the lays were first written in Iceland early in the thirteenth 
century, and the redactors were guided by the antiquarian interests of 
their age. But this does not show that all the lays originated in Iceland. 
The Vgluspd, as stated above, seems to date from the beginning of the 
eleventh century. The symbolism in it is coloured, not only by Christian 
legend, but also by the scenery of Iceland, its volcanoes, sandy beaches, 
even its midnight sun. It expresses the religious conceptions, not of a 
people, but of one Icelander. / 

The Hdvamdl was mentioned, and parts of it will be discussed in later 
chapters. 13 The first eighty strophes, if they are to be assigned to an age 
and a country, should probably be assigned to viking Norway. One of 
the strophes is quoted by the Norwegian Eyvind the Plagiarist in his 
memorial lay on Hakon the Good, composed about 960. 14 The mystical 
passages of the Hdvamdl (Strs. 138-164) must also belong to the Heathen 
Age, and their home is likely to be Norway, where the cult of runes was 
old and deep. 

There may be little dispute about the ages and origins of the Vgluspd 
and of various sections of the Hdvamdl, but there is little agreement about 
other lays. The prototypes of some of the heroic lays, such as the Hamd- 
ismdl are believed to be continental, and, in some cases, to go back to 
the Dark Ages, 16 but this cannot be said of the extant mythical lays. 
Although the continental Germans certainly had myths, and probably 


incorporated them in lays, 16 the mythical lays found in the Icelandic 
manuscripts can hardly derive from these ancient Germanic ones. It 
might well be argued that some of them originated in Sweden, Den- 
mark, and in the viking colonies of the British Isles. 17 

A number of the mythical lays were quoted by Snorri in the Gylfaginn- 
ing. These include the Vgluspd , Grimnismdl, Vafprddnismdl and, to a 
lesser extent, Skirnismdl, Lokasenna and Hdvamdl. Whether or not Snorri 
had such lays in written form, it is plain that he believed them to be 
very old. This suggests that even the latest of them were composed some 
generations before Snorri’s time. 

In general, it must be admitted that critics fall back on subjective 
arguments in dating the mythological lays. While the one says that 
Prymskvida was composed in the tenth century, others argue that it dates 
from the twelfth century or the thirteenth, or even that it is the work of 
Snorri Sturluson. 18 Rigspula is said by some to belong to the tenth cen- 
tury, while others assign it to the late thirteenth. 19 It may be hoped that 
detailed analysis of the language, metres and syntax will give us clearer 
ideas about the ages and homes of the mythical lays than we have now. 20 

When we study the myths, the ages of the poems may be of less im- 
portance than might appear at first sight. The survival of pagan tradi- 
tion as late as the thirteenth century is well proved by the works of 
Snorri. Even if Snorri were the author of the Prymskvida , its value as a 
source would not be altogether vitiated. 

The surviving mythical lays are only a fraction of those which once 
existed. The extant lays contain material of many different kinds, whose 
authors had different aims. While some of the lays are didactic, and 
some may contain relics of ritual poetry, others, like the Prymskvida, are 
designed for entertainment. In many, the author’s object is primarily 
artistic. The lays are not hymns, and the Edda is not a sacred book. 

The Eddaic lays reflect the myths in which their authors believed, 
or else treasured as hereditary tradition. But the sharp contrast between 
the lays and the historical records suggests that the lays give a one-sided 
picture of religious life. In the lays, Thor, the bold defender of Midgard, 
is put in the background, and even laughed at, while Cdinn reigns 
supreme. This may help to show the social conditions under which 
poetry of this kind developed. Cdinn is not only the god of poetry ; he is 
also god of princes and warriors. 

As noted above, the term ‘scaldic’, as used today, has no basis in Old 
Norse, but derives only from the word skald {skald), meaning ‘poet’. 21 

The modern usage is a loose one and a precise definition of scaldic 
poetry is hardly to be found. We think commonly of the difference be- 
tween the scaldic and the Eddaic as one of form. While the Eddaic lays 





are in free, rhythmical metres, in the scaldic poetry every syllable is 
counted and measured. Not everyone would accept this definition, for 
the Eddaic and the scaldic differ also in substance. 

The Eddaic poetry is all anonymous, telling of gods and of heroes 
who lived in a distant past. Most of the scaldic poetry is ascribed to 
named authors. Its subject is not, in the first place, myth or legend, but 
rather contemporary history. The scalds praise a chieftain for his valour 
and generosity, either during his lifetime or in a memorial lay made 
after his death. They commemorate a battle between princes of Scan- 
dinavia or the British Isles, or even a scrap between Icelandic farmers. 

The measures used by the scalds do not always differ from those of 
the Eddaic poets. One of the better-known scalds was Thorbjorn Horn- 
klofi, a favourite of Harald Finehair (died c. 945) . His most famous 
work is the Haraldskvadi (Lay of Harald) or Hrafnsmdl (Words of the 
Raven), of which a considerable part survives. 22 This lay is presented in 
a frame, like some of the Eddaic ones. It consists of a dialogue between a 
valkyrie and a raven. The bird, ever since he was hatched, had followed 
the young king, rejoicing in the carrion left on the battlefield. This may 
be called a scaldic poem, but Thorbjorn uses, not the syllabic measures 
typical of scaldic poetry, but the simpler measures of the Edda. At the 
same time, he uses some abstruse imagery generally associated with 
scaldic poetry. 23 The same could be said of the EiriksmM, a lay made in 
memory of Eirik Bloodaxe, killed in England about the middle of the 
tenth century, as well as of the Hdkonarmdl , composed by Eyvind the 
Plagiarist in memory of Hakon the Good, who died in Norway a few 
years later. These two lays are especially interesting in the pictures 
which they give of the reception of dead chiefs in Valholl. 24 

The poems so far mentioned could be called ‘half-scaldic’, and the 
same could be said of the Tnglingatal (List of the Ynglingar), in which 
Thj 6561 f of Hvin, another contemporary of Harald Finehair, traced the 
descent of Norwegian princes to the illustrious Ynglingar, kings of the 
Swedes. 25 

The Eddaic poetry, the half-scaldic and the strictly scaldic went on 
together. Thjdddlf of Hvin, Thorbjorn Hornklofi and Eyvind the Pla- 
giarist also left poetry in strict scaldic form. 

We must consider briefly what this form is. As already said, this is a 
syllabic poetry. There are many different measures, but the one most 
widely used was the Court Measure ( Drdttkvatt ) . The lines consisted of 
six syllables, of which three were stressed. Each line ended in a 
trochee, and the lines were bound by alliteration in pairs. The measure 
was strophic, and the strophe consisted of eight lines, divided by a deep | 

csesura into half-strophes of four lines. The scaldic verses are often 


transmitted in half-strophes, and it is likely that the half-strophe of 
four lines was the original unit. Internal rime and consonance are 
employed, generally according to strict rules. 26 

Syllable-counting was not characteristic of Germanic poetry, and its 
introduction was a break with the Germanic tradition. For this and 
other reasons, some have believed that the scaldic technique was an 
innovation devised in the ninth century under foreign influences, 
notably medieval Latin and Irish. 27 

The first to whom poetry in scaldic form is ascribed was Bragi Bod- 
dason, the Old. Bragi’s chief surviving poem is the Ragnarsdrdpa (Lay of 
Ragnar) of which twenty strophes and half-strophes are preserved in 
Snorri’s Edda. The poet describes the pictures painted on a shield said 
to be given to him by Ragnar LoSbrok. These pictures were scenes from 
legend and myth; they included Gefjun’s plough 28 and Thdr’s struggle 
with the World Serpent. 29 

We read in several sources of a god of poetry, called Bragi. It will be 
suggested in a later chapter that the historical Bragi devised the scaldic 
form of poetry, and that he was promoted to godhead after death. 30 

Several later scalds followed Bragi’s tradition in describing pictures of 
mythical scenes. In the Haustlgng, which is also a ‘shield’ poem, ThjoQolf 
of Hvin described the rape of ISunn 31 and Thor’s battle with the giant 
Hrungnir. 32 . In the elaborate Porsdrdpa (Lay of Thor), of the late tenth 
century, Eilif Gudrunarson described Thdr’s visit to the giant Geirrod. 33 
This lay may also be based on pictures. Gif Uggason in his Husdrdpa 
(House Lay), composed late in the tenth century, described panels 
carved on the inner timbers of a house in Iceland. The scenes depicted 
included the cremation of Baldr 34 and the fight between Loki and 
Heimdafl for possession of the Brising necklace. 36 

Egill Skalla-Grimsson (c. 910-990) was, without doubt, the greatest 
master of the scaldic art. He was one of those tenth-century Icelanders 
who had travelled far and seen much. He had lived as a viking, fighting 
battles in England and other lands. His verses are not generally about 
religious subjects, but they are rich in allusion to myth, and especially 
to Odinn, god of poetry. 

The earliest scalds, or court poets, of whom we read, were Norwegians, 
although their work is preserved chiefly in Icelandic manuscripts. It is 
strange that after Eyvind the Plagiarist (died c. 990) we hear little more 
of Norwegian scalds, and their successors were nearly all Icelanders. 38 
One of the foremost of these was Einar Skalaglamm, a younger friend of 
Egill Skalla-Grimsson. His chief work is the Vellekla (Gold-dearth), 
made in praise of H&kon the Great (died 995). H&kon, who was an 
ardent pagan, had expelled the half-Christian sons of Eirik Bloodaxe, 




and Einar, in magnificent language, celebrates the restoration of 
temples and sacrifice. 

HallfreS, nicknamed the troublesome poet, was the particular favourite 
of the Christian king, Olaf Tryggvason (died ad iooo), who, with diffi- 
culty, converted him to the new religion. In some of his verses, HallfreS 
expresses his regret at deserting the heathen gods of his ancestors. 37 

The Icelandic Family Sagas contain numerous scaldic verses, made 
for one occasion or another. In their kennings these are often valuable 
as sources of mythology. Some of those dating from the period of the 
Conversion have religious themes. A woman poet, Steinunn, praised 
the god Th6r for wrecking the ship of the missionary, Thangbrand 

( c . 999). 38 

From the present point of view the interest of the scaldic poetry is 
largely in its diction. All poets use periphrases, but the scalds developed 
these periphrases, or kennings as they are called, in ways of which other 
Germanic poets had not dreamed. Any poet might call the sea the ‘land 
of waves’, but when a poet calls it the ‘blood of Ymir 5 , the ‘wounds of 
the giant’s neck’, it is plain that he is addressing hearers to whom myth 
was familiar. 

The kenning, as has sometimes been said, may present a myth in 
miniature. Many of the kennings for poetry are based upon the myth of 
its origin, or of Oainn’s theft of it. 39 It may be called the ‘blood of 
Kvasir’, Tain of dwarfs’, ‘theft of 05 inn’, the ‘hallowed cup of the 

Scaldic poetry dates from the ninth century to the thirteenth (and 
even later). Most of it is assigned to named poets, whose dates are 
approximately known. It has been said that the mythological kennings 
declined early in the eleventh century with the introduction of Chris- 
tianity, to revive as meaningless phrases about the middle of the twelfth 
century. 40 Such a conclusion should be accepted with reserve. Much of 
the surviving poetry dating from 995—1030 was dedicated to the fana- 
tical Christian kings, Olaf Tryggvason and Olaf the Saint, who under- 
standably disliked pagan imagery. 41 The fragments left by humbler 
Icelandic poets of the period, e.g. Gizur Gullbrarskald and Hofgarda- 
Ref, 42 suggest that pagan tradition was cherished and that it was not 
broken. 43 This may partly explain how the pagan myths survived in 
Iceland until the thirteenth century. 44 

Much of the scaldic poetry is preserved in the works of Snorri and in 
the sagas of kings and of Icelanders. Every reader must wonder whether 
the, ascription to this or that poet is correct. In some cases it is clearly 
not. Few would believe that all the verses ascribed to Grettir Asmund- 
arson (died c. 1031) were really his work, and many have questioned 



the authenticity of the verses ascribed to Gisli Sursson (died c. 978). 48 
But few have doubted that many verses are correctly ascribed to the 
Norwegian and Icelandic scalds of the ninth and tenth centuries. Even 
if some of the verses are spurious, they can, in many cases, be proved by 
linguistic argument to be much older than the prose texts in which they 
are embedded. Without explanation, many of the scaldic verses would 
be meaningless, and could not live. It follows that many of the explana- 
tions of these verses, found in prose sources, whether correct or not, date 
from an early period. The scaldic poetry is one of the most valuable 
sources of myth. 

Histories and Sagas 

Comparatively little history was written in medieval Scandinavia, ex- 
cept in Iceland. History was first written in that country about the end 
of the eleventh century, and the first work of which we hear was a his- 
tory of the kings of Norway, written by the aristocratic priest, Szemund 
Sigfusson (1056-1133). We read that Saemund had studied in France, 
most probably in Paris, and it is likely that continental models prompted 
him to undertake this work. It is nearly certain that Sasmund wrote in 
Latin. His history is lost, but references to it in later works, and occa- 
sional quotations from it, show that it was a concise history, and suggest 
that Szemund laid great emphasis on the chronology of the kings’ lives. 1 

Szemund’s younger contemporary, Ari Thorgilsson (1067-1148). is 
of far greater significance. He too was a priest and was the first to write 
history in Icelandic or any Scandinavian language. Ari’s surviving 
Libellus Islandorum ( Islendingabdk ) is a summary history of Iceland from 
the settlement in the late ninth century to his own time. He wrote, in 
the first place, for the bishops of Iceland, and shows especial interest in 
the Conversion of the Icelanders (ad 1000) and in the history of the 
early Church. In fact the extant version of this book is a second one, but 
some later historians, and especially Snorri, show that they knew the 
book in its original form. Ari is not a romancer, but writes as a scien- 
tific historian, stating and weighing his evidence. 2 

The ‘Book of Settlements’ {Landndmabok) z is a much more detailed 
history of Iceland, district by district and family by family. There are 
good reasons to believe that this was largely Ari’s work, although it 
survives today only in versions of the thirteenth and later centuries, 
notably those of Sturla Th6r6arson (died 1284), of Hauk Erlendsson 
(died 1334), in the fragmentary Melabok and in derivatives of these. 4 
The Landndmabok is of immense value as a source of social and religious 
history. In one version (that of Hauk), it includes the opening clauses 
of the heathen law, introduced in Iceland about ad 930. These clauses 



provide for the administration of temples, for. the position of the goU 
(priest and chieftain), for sacrifice and for the form of the oath 
sworn in the names of Freyr, Njord and the all-powerful god. It is also 
laid down that none may approach the shores of Iceland with a dragon- 
head on his ship, lest the guardian-spirits should take fright. 5 

The Landndmabdk must have taken many years to compile and much 
painstaking research, and it is likely that Ari had collaborators. A cer- 
tain Kolskegg, probably an older contemporary of Ari, is named in the 
text as if he were author or source of some chapters about the east and 
south-east of the country. 6 

There are some other scraps or schedae which may also be ascribed to 
Ari. One of these is a summary life of the chieftain Snorri Godi (died 
1031), which was an important source for the Eyrbyggja Saga . 1 The 
Draplaugar Sona Saga and the Bjarnar Saga HitMakappa 8 are also believed 
to be based partly on summary lives written in the twelfth century, and 
there were perhaps many more of these than we know of now. If so, 
they may give us confidence in the historicity of Family Sagas of the 
thirteenth century. 

Certain histories in Latin and in the vernacular are also ascribed to 
Norwegians of the twelfth century. One of them, the Historia de anti- 
quitate regum norwagensium was written by a monk, Theodricus (Theodo- 
ricus) . 9 It is a synoptic history of the kings from the ninth century to the 
twelfth, and is dedicated to Eysteinn, Archbishop of Nidaross (died 
1 1 88) . It is of no great importance for the present study, but it is interest- 
ing to notice how Theodricus pays tribute to Icelanders, who had pre- 
served memories of antiquity in ancient verses. He can only refer to 
scaldic verses about the kings of Norway. 

The Icelandic sagas, to which we must now turn, fall into several 
groups. The oldest of them, written about 1170-90 treat chiefly of the 
two Christian kings of Norway, Claf the Saint (died 1030), and Olaf 
Tryggvason (died 1000). These are markedly clerical works. Their 
form is modelled partly on that of medieval lives of saints, of which a 
number were known in Iceland at that time. The material, on the other 
hand, is drawn much from scaldic poetry and other traditional sources. 

These early biographies of kings are of less interest from the present 
point of view than are some of the later ones, and particularly those of 
Snorri, who made copious use, not only of older histories, but also of 
scaldic poetry and tradition (see Snorri Sturluson, below). 

The Icelandic Family Sagas are among the most important of our 
sources and, at the same time, the most difficult to evaluate. They were 
mostly written in the thirteenth century, 10 and tell of the lives of Ice- 
landers who lived in the tenth and early in the eleventh century. It 


used to be said that many of them were composed almost at the time 
when the events described took place, and were transmitted orally, and 
nearly without change, until they were written down. If this were so 
these sagas could be trusted implicitly as records of history, but few 
believe it now. The Family Sagas must be studied as the product of a 
literary movement of the thirteenth century, perhaps the most as- 
tonishing in medieval Europe. They are often realistic, and this has led . 
many to believe that they are historically exact. 

In recent years, reaction against such views has gone far. We read 
sometimes that these sagas are fiction and no more, and that their 
authors’ concepts of pagan religion were based only on Christian out- 
look and prejudice. 11 . 

D. Stromback 12 has shown with telling examples how deeply the 
descriptions of pagan belief found in the sagas could be influenced by 
Christian legend. Nevertheless, the survival of scaldic poetry with its 
allusive diction implied a survival of pagan tradition. Moreover, some 
sagas, at least, drew on summary histories written early in the twelfth 
century, when memories of the Heathen Age still lived. 

The Icelanders were converted to Christianity on one day in the 
year ad 1000, although pagan practices were permitted for some time 
afterwards. 13 It is not extravagant to suppose that memories of heathen- 
dom lived on until, with the remarkable learning of the twelfth and 
thirteenth centuries, they acquired an antiquarian value. 14 

We should not speak of Family Sagas in any general way. Each one 
is governed by the aims, methods and sources of its author. Some 
authors, relying on the written and oral sources which they knew, 
aimed to write history, and this may more often be true of the older 
than of the later ones. For some the object was to entertain or to com- 
pose a work of art. 

Few of the Family Sagas describe religious beliefs and practices in 
close detail. An exception is the Eyrbyggja Saga , whose author gave an 
account of the worship of Thor among the settlers of Iceland. He also 
left a detailed description of a temple and of the sacrifices conducted in 
it, as well as narratives illustrating conceptions of death which, as he 
believed, were current in the Heathen Age. As already remarked, 
this author used older histories, when these were available, as well as 
numerous scaldic poems and local traditions. His history may not be 
exact, but he may yet draw a fair picture of life and religion in pagan 

Some sagas, and especially the later ones, have been proved to be 
mainly, or even wholly fictitious. An example is the famous Hrafnkels 
Saga , one of the most realistic and convincing of the whole group. 15 It 




has been shown that some of the leading characters in this saga never 
existed. In outline the story must be fiction, but this need not imply that 
the author created it out of nothing. The Hrafnkels Saga includes an 
exceptionally interesting account of the worship of the god, Freyr, and 
of that god’s relations with a dedicated stallion. Comparative study 
shows that the author based this on reliable sources, whether written 
works now lost, poetry or amorphous tradition. For the study of reli- 
gious history it is not important whether Hrafnkell, the hero of the 
saga, worshipped Freyr in the manner described, or whether others 
did so. 18 

Although most of the Family Sagas contain few details of religious 
life, they allude to many pagan practices. They tell of such practices as 
sprinkling the new-born child with water, naming him, and occasion- 
ally dedicating him to a god. They tell of temples, their administration 
and of dues payable for their upkeep. In contrast to the Eddas, they 
suggest that Th6r was the favourite god of the Icelanders, and next to 
him came the fertility god, Freyr. Presiding over all is an impersonal, 
unapproachable fate. 

Besides Family Sagas, we have to consider another group of sagas as 
religious sources. These are sometimes called in English Heroic 
Sagas’ and, in Icelandic, Fomaldar Sogur. 11 They are of many different ] 
kinds but, to define them in the simplest words, they are tales about 
heroes who were supposed to have lived before Iceland was peopled in 
the ninth century. They contain little history, but much tradition, 
some of it ancient. Some of them tell of heroes of the Dark Ages, such 
as Ermanaric, Hrolf Kraki, and others of viking heroes, such as Ragnar 
LoSbrdk and his notorious sons. Others are based chiefly on medieval / j 
folklore and, in many, these three kinds of material are combined. 

In their extant form, few Heroic Sagas can be older than the second j 

half of the thirteenth century, and many date from the fourteenth j 

century. There are some exceptions. The Skjqldunga Saga , a history of the 
mythical and legendary kings of the Danes, was known to Snorri, and 
Snorri himself compiled the Tnglinga Saga (see Snorri Sturluson, below) . 

In some cases it is possible to see how Heroic Sagas were compiled. 

The Vqlsunga Saga is based largely on lays about Sigurd and his kins- 
men preserved in the Poetic Edda, and on some which have fallen from 
that book. 18 Its introductory chapters contain much mythological 
matter drawn from unknown sources. The Heidreks Saga, which also has 
much mythological interest, is based largely on verses, many of which 
are quoted in its text. Some of these verses are believed to be among the j 
oldest preserved in Norse, while others probably date from the twelfth- 
century. 18 | 



Although most Heroic Sagas are written in a late form and style, 
some have a preliterary history which can be followed comparatively 
closely. It is related in the Porgils Saga ok Hafii5a how two stories were 
told at a wedding feast held in western Iceland in ad n 19. In one of 
these there was a viking, Hrongvid, and a warrior king, Olaf. It was 
told how the cairn of a berserk had been plundered. A certain Hrdmund 
Gripsson also appeared in the story, and many verses went with it. The 
man who told this story is named as Hrolf of Skalmames, and it is said 
in the text that he had composed it (saman setta) himself. Since Hrolf is 
remembered as a poet, we may believe that he had composed the verses 
as well. 

This passage in the Porgils Saga is difficult to interpret. Its age and 
veracity have been questioned, but recent commentators have regarded 
it as a genuine record. 20 The story told by Hrolf may have some slight 
basis in history, for Hromund appears in genealogies as if he had lived 
in Telemark in the eighth century. But, although there can have been 
little history in it, Hrolf’s story survived orally for some two centuries. 
It appears in a sequence of verses ( Griplur ), probably of the fifteenth 
century, which are believed to be based on a saga of the fourteenth 

The especial interest of this passage from the Porgils Saga is that it 
shows something about a Heroic Saga in preliterary form. Much of it 
was in verse, and in subject it was plainly related to some of the lays 
of the Edda, notably those of Helgi and the lost Kdruljdd 21 

Saxo, writing early in the thirteenth century (see Saxo, below) 
also retold much that he had heard about gods and heroes of old, and 
much of this was in verse. The myths and legends were, in many cases, 
exceedingly ancient, but Saxo treated his sources freely and put his own 
interpretation upon them. The form in which the stories are presented 
in Heroic Sagas is a late, romantic one. These sagas were written chiefly 
for entertainment. In so far as they represent pagan myth and tradition, 
they bring us back to the world of the Eddaic lays. Odinn, appearing 
one-eyed, or disguised, is often the decisive figure. 

Snorri Sturluson 

The works of Snorri Sturluson (c. 11 79-1 241) have unique importance 
for the study of Norse heathendom, or rather Norse myths. They will 
often be quoted in the following pages, but have been discussed so fully 
in many books which are easily available 1 that little need be said of 
them here. 

Snorri came of a powerful family of northern Iceland, but at the age 
of two he was taken to Oddi, where he was brought up by J6n Loptssori 



(1124-97), the most eminent chieftain of his age. Jon and his family, 
the Oddaverjar, as they were called, dominated the cultural and politi- 
cal scenes of Iceland throughout the twelfth century, and Snorri’s pro- 
found learning and interest in antiquity must be traced largely to his 
early years in their charge. 

Snorri’s foster-father, Jon, was described by contemporary writers. 
He was not only a secular chieftain, but was also a deacon in orders and, 
despite his loose morals, a pious man. He was accomplished in the 
clerical arts, which he had learnt from his parents. His father, Lopt, was 
a priest and was himself the son of Saemund (1056-1133), who had 
established not only the fortunes of the family but also the practice of 
writing history in Iceland. 

Many ofS<emund’s descendants took holy orders and were noted tor 
their learning. They were also proud of their family traditions, claiming 
to descend not only from the Skjoldungar, the ancient kings of Den- 
mark, but also from the kings of Norway. It was acknowledged that 
the mother of Jon Loptsson was a natural daughter of King Magnus 
Bareleg (died 1103). To commemorate this, an anonymous poet com- 
posed a Noregs Konunga Tal (List of the Kings of Norway), tracing the 
decent of Jon to the ninth century. This poem, in an antiquated style, 
was based partly on the Chronicle of Sasmund. 2 

Some important historical works appear to have been written by the 
Oddaveijar or under their guidance.® These include the SkjQldunga 
Saga and the Orkneyinga Saga , both of which Snorri used as sources. 

Undoubtedly a large library was kept at Oddi, and we may suppose 
that Snorri acquired his taste for learning there. He did not take orders, 
which were now withheld from chieftains, 4 and his education was 
rather that of a layman. While it cannot be shown that he studied Latin, 
as many of the Oddaverjar had done, he seems to have read all the his- 
torical, or quasi-historical literature written in Icelandic before his day. 
In his writing he made copious use of earlier works, sometimes alluding 
to them by name, and sometimes copying word-for-word. 

But Snorri did not use written sources alone ; he also used oral ones, 
and this greatly adds to the value of his work for the study of mythology. 

The first of Snorri’s major works was his Edda ,° written about 1220, 
which, to this day, remains the most valuable summary of Norse myths. 
It was not, in the first place, designed as a treatise on this subject, but 
rather on prosody. As it seems, Snorri was aware that the scaldic art 
was dying out, and believed that it should be revived and explained. 6 
His Edda consists of a Prologue and four sections. The last section, which 
is called the Hdttatal (List of Verse-forms), was perhaps written first. 7 It 
consists of 102 strophes exemplifying 100 different forms of verse. These 



verses are addressed to H&kon H&konarson, the young King of Norway, 
and his uncle, Jarl Skuli. Snorri has added a detailed commentary on 
each form of verse which he uses, and this remains the basis of our 
knowledge of the metrical variations used by the scalds. It is the second 
and first sections of the book which chiefly concern us here. The second 
is called the Skaldskaparmdl (Speech of Poetry). Snorri’s aim in writing 
this section was to explain kennings and other poetical expressions used 
by the scalds. He illustrated their usage with lavish quotations from 
early poetry, and thus saved much from oblivion. 

While explaining the kennings, Snorri often tells at length the myths 
or legends upon which they are based. He thus tells why poetry is 
denoted by such kennings as ‘Kvasir’s blood’, ‘the ship of the dwarfs’, 
‘(Finn’s mead’, and why gold is ‘the speech of the giants’, ‘the pay- 
ment for the otter’, and battle ‘the storm of the HjaSnings’. 

Since the scaldic kennings were based to a great extent on myths, it 
was necessary to give a description of the Norse Olympus. Therefore 
Snorri wrote the first section of his Edda, the Gylfaginning (Deceiving of 
Gylfi), which is the section most widely read today, both for its literary 
and mythological interest. It is set in a kind of frame : Gylfi, a king of 
the Swedes, goes to AsgarQ, the citadel of the supposed gods, who de- 
ceived his eyes by the force of their wizardry. He asked them question 
after question about the origins of the earth, of the giants, gods and 
men. He heard of the feats, failures and tragedies of the gods, and 
finally of the terrible Ragnarqk, which is yet to come. 

Snorri used many sources for the Gylfaginning , but a great part of it 
came from Eddaic poetry. It is likely that Snorri had received this 
poetry orally, although some believe that he had written versions of it. 8 
The outline of the story told to Gylfi was supplied by the Vqluspd, from 
which Snorri quotes many strophes. Like the author of the Vqluspd , 
Snorri traces the history of the gods from the beginning to the Ragnarqk, 
but he has added much from other sources, quoting both from Eddaic 
poems known to us, and from others which are forgotten. He quoted no 
scaldic poetry except at the beginning, although he drew from it, and 
based some of his stories largely upon it. 

Although educated as a layman, Snorri derived his literary education 
from men of clerical training. Consequently his views about heathen 
gods were coloured by Christian teaching. In the Gylfaginning he ex- 
presses a kind of euhemerism, but it is mixed with other views. The 
Msir, who deceived Gylfi, were not really gods; they were wizards. 
They had evidently come to the north from Asia. Their original home, 
the ancient AsgarS (Asgardr hinn fomi) was identified with Troy. 9 But 
euhemerism did not carry Snorri all the way. The gods, of whom his 



hosts told Gylfi, were those whom they worshipped themselves (god- 
mggnpau , er peir blotudu). They deceived Gylfi by pretending that they 
were the same as those gods (allir varu einir peir <esir 3 er nu var fra sagt , ok 
pessir er pd varu pau sqmu nqfn gefin ) . 10 

Snorri’s Edda is preceded by a Prologue, which need hardly concern 
us here. This is so different from the rest of the book that some have 
doubted whether it is really Snorri’s work, 11 although manuscript 
evidence suggests that it is. The purpose of the Prologue is plain; it 
brings Norse mythology into line with the European learning of the age. 
It begins with the creation of the world, passes on to the flood, and tells 
how the name of God was forgotten, although people observed the 
wonders of nature and concluded that there must be some ruler over 
the elements. The geography of the world is then described, as well as 
the Trojan heroes, who were ancestors of the Norse gods. This story is 
filled in with genealogies of English origin, 12 and it is told finally how 
the iEsir, the men of Asia, migrated to Sweden. 

The reliability of Snorri’s Edda as a source of mythology has been 
judged very variously. Snorri was writing more than two centuries 
after Iceland had adopted Christianity, and a Christian spirit runs 
through his work. He sometimes misunderstood the sources which he 
quoted, and tended to systematize and rationalize. Some critics have 
suspected that nearly everything which Snorri adds to known sources 
was invented, either by him or by his contemporaries. Thus the story 
which Snorri tells in the Gylfaginning (Ch. 6) of the drowning of the 
giants in the blood of one of their own race is merely an adaptation of 
the story of the biblical flood, far removed as it is. 13 Similarly, it has 
been said, Loki had no place in the story of Baldr’s death, 14 because 
this is not plainly stated in the extant poetic sources, even if it is implied. 

Such views have been found hypercritical, and a sharp reaction has 
set in in recent years. Using the comparative method, G. Dumezil 15 has 
shown that Snorri’s evidence cannot be so lightly dismissed. Many 
examples illustrating this will be quoted in the body of this work, but to 
take one of them, the story of the origin of poetry, ‘the blood of Kvasir , 
finds a very close parallel in an Indian myth. 

If we admit that Snorri had a deep knowledge of Norse myths, we 
may wonder how he acquired it. It is clear that the Skjgldunga Saga and 
some ‘mythography’ had been written before Snorri’s time, but it is 
doubtful whether this was much. Although Snorri’s sources appear to 
be largely oral, it is difficult to understand how myths could have lived 
orally through two centuries of ardent Christianity. A partial answer 
may be given. Scaldic poetry had lived orally from the tenth century 
until Snorri’s time, and new poetry, often about Christian subjects, was 



composed in the same vein throughout the period. Poetry of this 
kind is rarely self-explanatory; in other words commentators were 
needed to explain the kennings and sophisticated diction. 16 We may 
believe that many of the stories which Snorri told in the Skdldshaparmdl 
were based on the verbal commentaries of those who had instructed him 
in the scaldic art. Although they had originated in the scaldic period, 
these stories must have been modified, partly by successive narrators, 
and partly by Snorri himself. 

It is another question how far Snorri gives a true picture of the pagan 
hierarchy. It seems one-sided. Odinn, All-father, is presented under his 
many names as chief of all the gods, and once equated with God Al- 
mighty, while Th6r is benevolent and, on occasion, fooled. The his- 
torical sources, on the other hand, show that, in Western Scandinavia 
at least, Thor enjoyed the widest respect and trust (see previous sec- 
tion). The reasons for this discrepancy are not difficult to see. Snorri 
was following the tradition of the poets. While the peasants placed their 
faith in Thor, OSinn was the favourite god of the poets and of the 
princes who supported them. Poetry was OSinn’s mead, his theft, his 

In later life, Snorri turned more to history. The historical works 
commonly ascribed to him are the Saga of St. Olaf and the Heimskringla , 
a history of the Kings of Norway from the earliest times to the late 
twelfth century. There are also good reasons to believe that Snorri was 
the author of the Egils Saga . 11 It may be supposed that these works were 
written between c. 1223 and 1235. 

Snorri had travelled in Norway and S.W. Sweden (Gautland) in the 
years 1218-20, and his historical works may be regarded partly as the 
outcome of this visit. He shows a more detailed knowledge of the geo- 
graphy and traditions, both of Norway and Sweden, than he could be 
expected to acquire in Iceland alone. 

It was suggested that Snorri had based much of his Edda on oral 
sources. But his historical works, treating largely of the Kings of Nor- 
way, depend largely on older sagas about these Kings, for many had 
been written before Snorri’s time. Nevertheless, Snorri added much, 
partly from his own deductions and observations, and from stories 
which he had heard on his travels. As he says himself in his Prologue 
to the Heimskringla , 18 he had a strong faith in the scaldic poetry made 
in honour of the kings whom he described, although he realized that it 
might be corrupt or misunderstood. 

Snorri’s histories contain numerous allusions to pagan practices, 
particularly those which cover the period of the Conversion, in the late 
tenth and early eleventh centuries. 



But for the study of myths, the most valuable of Snorri’s historical, or 
quasi-historical works is the Tnglinga Saga , the first section of the Heims- 
kringla. Here Snorri tells of the mythical and legendary ancestors of the 
Ynglingar, the Kings of the Swedes. 

Like many others, these Kings were believed to descend from the 
gods, and Snorri traces their mythical ancestry in some detail. He 
expresses the same euhemeristic views as he did in his Edda, but carries 
them further. He tells of the two tribes of gods, iEsir and Vanir, of the 
war between them and subsequent treaty. He tells how the gods, under 
the leadership of 06 inn, had come from Asia to Scandinavia, where 
06inn had distributed dominions among his sons and followers. 

After Odinn had died in Sweden, Njor 5 was ruler of the Swedes, and 
after him his son Freyr. Freyr was also known by another name, Yngvi, 
and it was after him that the Kings were called Ynglingar. 

In this part of the Heimskringla, Snorri has used many sources of 
devious kinds, which could not profitably be discussed in this space. 19 
His chief source was the poem Tnglinga Tal (List of the Ynglingar), 
which was composed in the ninth century by the Norwegian Thj 6561 f 
of Hvin. 20 The poet’s aim was to glorify the petty kings of south-eastern 
Norway, demonstrating their descent from the splendid house of the 

The poem, of which some thirty-seven strophes survive, is a strange 
mixture of myth and history, and it is difficult to know whether some of 
those named as kings of the Swedes had ever lived or not. But the 
Tnglinga Tal corresponds in many things closely with the Old English 
Beowulf, showing that the Swedish traditions embodied in this Nor- 
wegian poem go back to the sixth century at least. 21 

In its present form, the Tnglinga Tal tells little about the Kings of the 
Swedes, except how they died and where they were buried. The be- 
ginning, which must have told of Odinn, Njord, Freyr, is lost. 22 It is not 
improbable that Snorri received this poem in written form ; it seems to 
have been known to Ari Thorgilsson and to have influenced some other 
medieval writers, if indirectly. 23 

Whether or not it was written down before the time of Snorri, the 
Tnglinga Tal must certainly have been accompanied by explanatory 
stories, in which something more was told about the kings than their 
death and burial. It is also likely that, while he was in Sweden, Snorri 
heard some traditions which he incorporated in the Tnglinga Saga. He 
seems to know of the three great burial mounds at Uppsala, and to 
believe that three kings were buried in them. 24 

Since the traditions upon which the Tnglinga Tal is based reach so 
far back into antiquity, it is likely that it was itself based on poetry 



older than the ninth century. If so, much of this poetry was probably 
Swedish. It would be in the same tradition as the genealogical poetry 
mentioned by Tacitus [Germ. II), in which Germans celebrated their 
descent from Tuisto. Jordanes also alluded to poetry in which the 
Goths commemorated their ancestors, and he seemed to know records 
which told of the deaths of the Gothic princes and their burial. 25 

Historical or not, the early kings of the Swedes were the kinsmen of 
the gods ; they presided over the sacrifices and, on occasion, they were 
the victims of sacrifice (see Ch. IX). If only in death, cremation and 
inhumation, they reflect ancient religious beliefs and practices. 


The Gesta Danorum of the Danish historian Saxo, nicknamed Gramma- 
ticus, will be mentioned frequently in this book. 1 The work consists of 
sixteen books in Latin, and is a comprehensive history of the Danes 
from prehistoric times to the late twelfth century. 

Saxo’s aim and the conditions under which he worked may be con- 
sidered briefly. He was probably born about 1 150, and little is known of 
his life, except that he was secretary of Absalon, Bishop of Roskilde 1158 
and Archbishop of Lund 1 1 78-120 1 . 

As Saxo himself tells, 2 it was at the instigation of Absalon that he 
undertook his stupendous task. Its object was, in the first place, the 
glorification of the Danes which, in Saxo’s mind, combined with a 
hatred of Germans. It is supposed that he began his work about 1185 
and finished it long after Absalon’s death. It is dedicated to Andreas 
(died 1228), who succeeded Absalon, and to King Valdemar II 
(1202-42). The strictly historical section, covering Books X-XVI, 
from Harald Bluetooth (936-86) to Saxo’s own time, was evidently 
written first, and was based on Danish sources. 3 

The first nine Books, and it is these alone which concern us here, 
were probably written as an afterthought, forming an introduction to 
the whole. 

These Books were completed about 1215, or a little later, and they 
are an invaluable source, not so much of early history as of legend, 
mythology and religious tradition. 

The stories which Saxo tells are often chaotic and difficult to follow, 
and his sources and methods of work must be considered if his status as 
an authority is to be judged. 

It is plain that, while Saxo used Danish folktales and oral traditions, 
these provided only a part of his material. The bulk of it was made up by 
West Norse tradition. A. Olrik, in his monumental work, Kilderne til 
Sakses Oldhistorie (HI, 1892-94), attempted to distinguish the Danish 



from the West Norse elements and, in general, his conclusions must be 

It is more difficult to discover how Saxo came to know these West 
Norse traditions. He provides a partial answer himself. In his Prologue 
(p. 3), he lavishes praise on the Ty lenses, the men of Iceland (Thule). 
He praises them, not only for their sobriety and wisdom, but especially 
for their profound knowledge of the ancient history of lands other than 
their own. He adds that he has composed ‘no small part 5 (haul paruam 
. . . partem) of his work by weaving together their narratives. 

In his Prologue (p. 6), Saxo also gives a detailed and remarkably 
exact description of the island of Iceland, although there is nothing to 
suggest that he had ever been there himself. We may then wonder who 
were the Icelandic informants who told Saxo about their legends and 
their country. Olrik 4 inclined to believe that there was only one of 
them, and this was Arnoldus Tylensis, who is identified with Arnhall 
Thorvaldsson, said in an Icelandic source to have composed poetry for 
the King of Denmark, Valdemar the Great (1157-82). 6 Only one story 
is told of Arnoldus, and that by Saxo in Book XIV (594) ; he was said 
to be in the company of Bishop Absalon about the year 1167, and was 
praised for his sagacity, knowledge of history and power of recounting. 

It is not known whether Saxo had met Arnoldus, but if he was born 
about the middle of the twelfth century, he would have been only 
seventeen years old in 1167. Olrik therefore suggested 6 that the stories 
which Arnoldus told were transmitted to Saxo by Danish middlemen, 
and this would account for certain misunderstandings found in his 

This theory had appeared to many as unnecessarily elaborate, and it 
seems to conflict with the words used by Saxo in his Prologue, for he 
praises the Icelanders as a people and as the repository of ancient 

Several Icelandic poets other than Arnoldus are known to have 
worked for kings of Denmark in Saxo’s time, 7 and many Icelanders must 
have passed through Denmark on their way to the south. 

One of the most eminent and learned Icelanders of this period was 
Gizur Hallsson. Gizur travelled widely and frequently. 8 He had lived 
in Norway and been to Rome, and was the author of a Flos Peregrinationis, 
now lost. He is named as an authority on German emperors, 9 on Olaf 
Tryggvason 10 and, strangely enough, on the kings of Denmark. 11 Gizur 
was an older man than Saxo, dying in 1206 about the age of eighty. The 
course of his life, since he was Law-speaker from 1 181 to 1200, may make 
it improbable that he and Saxo had met. Nevertheless, we could sup- 
pose that he was the kind of scholarly Icelander, of whom there were 



many in those days, with whom Saxo exchanged learning. It could be 
added that Gizur’s son, Magnus, afterwards Bishop of Skalaholt 
(1216-37), was in Denmark in 1188 and probably again on his way to 
and from Rome in 1202 and 1203. 12 

Olrik’s brilliant exposition has sometimes been criticized in another 
point, although less generally. As he believed, the West Norse stories 
were told by an Icelander, but they were based, to a great extent, on a 
Norwegian, and not on an Icelandic tradition. Saxo’s narrative is par- 
ticularly rich in place-names of Western Norway. The traditions were, 
therefore, gathered by an Icelander who had travelled the Norwegian 
coast. 13 Elsewhere, 14 Olrik thought also of Norwegian prelates, 
exiled from Norway in the reign of King Sverrir (died 1202), as the 
transmitters of Norwegian tradition. It should, however, be remarked 
that the Icelanders of the twelfth century were great travellers, and 
they knew no foreign part so well as Western Norway. It is believed 
also that Saxo had himself visited Norway in the year 1168, 15 but his 
contempt for the drunken Norwegians makes it improbable that he 
owed any great debt to them. 

The source of one of Saxo’s sections has aroused particular interest 
and controversy among scholars. This is the so-called Bravallapula, in 
which Saxo enumerates the champions on either side in the legendary 
battle of Bravellir, where Harald Wartooth lost his fife (see Gh. X, 
Harald Wartooth). Saxo claims to be following the words of the hero 
StarkaS, and some 160 champions are named. They come from all the 
known world, and their nicknames and places of origin are often added. 

It was noticed long ago that, in this imposing list of champions, Saxo 
was reproducing a metrical list of the kind called in Icelandic Pulur. 
This same list is given, although in shorter form, in the so-called ‘Frag- 
mentary History (of Kings of Denmark)’ (SQgubrot ) preserved in an 
Icelandic manuscript of c. 1 300. 

The origin of this list, or pula, is disputed, and many have argued that 
it is Norwegian, claiming to find a Norwegian, or Telemarkian patrio- 
tism in its lines, besides certain historical anachronisms, of which an 
Icelander of the twelfth century would not be guilty. 17 Others, using 
close linguistic arguments, claim more precisely that it originated in 
south-eastern Norway, and even that manuscripts written in that 
region provided the model, both for Saxo and for the ‘Fragmentary 
History’. 18 These conclusions have been accepted widely, 19 but the 

( most recent investigator 20 shows that the arguments on which they are 
based arc unreliable, partly because of our defective knowledge of Nor- 
wegian dialects at so early a period. 

If it is studied from the point of view of literary history, the Bravalla- 


Urn vend a* Kgrlsvs v Fraze 

Knihovna fJInvnf;*. ot? 


pula fits more easily into an Icelandic setting. Metrical name-lists ( pulur ) 
flourished in Iceland, where many are preserved. It is believed that 
these lists date mainly from the twelfth century, and to this period the 
Bravallapula most probably belonged. 

It is is agreed that Saxo received a great part of the traditions in- 
corporated in his first nine books from Icelanders, it is still difficult to 
know in what form these traditions reached him, and what was their 
ultimate origin. 

Again, we may find a partial answer to the first question in Saxo’s 
own words. His sources were partly in verse and, as he says himself, he 
took care to render verse by verse ( metra metris reddenda curaui ). 21 The 
verse, which Saxo wrote in Latin, was in flowery language and elabo- 
rate measures, altogether obscuring the form of his originals. Neverthe- 
less, Icelandic vernacular sources sometimes show what these were like. 

As Saxo tells the story of Hadding’s disagreement with his wife (see 
Gh. X, Hadding), the couple address each other in more than thirty 
lines. When the god Njord and his giant wife, Skadi, addressed each 
other in words which must be close to the source of Saxo’s Latin, they 
used twelve short alliterating lines of Ljodahdttr, in which they expressed 
nearly as much. I 

In Book II Saxo tells the famous story of Hr 61 f Kraki and his last j 

battle at Hleidra (Lejre), when the castle was set alight, apparently by 
its own defenders. Saxo (II, 67) gives the latter scene in lengthy hexa- 
meters, purporting to reproduce a ‘Danish’ poem ( danici . . , carminis ), 
known to many antiquarians. The term ‘Danish’ (dgnsk tunga) was often 
applied, in the Middle Ages, to Scandinavian languages in general, and 
therefore this does not show that Saxo received the poem from a Dane. 

He could equally well have heard it from an Icelander, and there are 
some reasons to think that he did. Not only the underlying legends, but 
the poem itself was known to Icelanders of Saxo’s time, and was called 
the Bjarkamdl. In his account of the battle of Stiklastadir (ad 1030), 
where St Claf laid down his life, Snorri tells that, on the morning before 
the battle, the Saint called his Icelandic poet, Thormod, to awaken his 
men with a stirring, martial song. He chanted the Bjarkamdl , which was 
also called Huskarlahvqt (Incitement of Housecarles) 22 and by Saxo 
Exortationum Series. 23 The first two strophes of the poem are quoted by 
Snorri in the Heimskringla, and Snorri quotes three other strophes, 
which he assigns to it, in his Edda. 2i 

The Bjarkamdl, as Saxo retells it, is a trialogue, spoken chiefly by the 
champion, Hjalti, to awaken the sleeping warriors, calling them to lay 
down their fives for their generous lord, as the enemy approach. On the 
basis of Saxo’s version, A. Olrik 26 was able to reconstruct a convincing 



version of this poem in modern Danish, which was subsequently 
adapted in English by L. M. Hollander. 26 

Good reasons have been given for believing that the Bjarkamdl was, 
in fact, a Danish poem of the tenth century. 27 It cannot, however, be 
used as evidence that alliterative verse survived in Denmark in Saxo’s 
time. The Icelanders, as Saxo makes plain, stored and developed the 
traditions of lands other than their own. 

The Bjarkamdl and the legends of Hrdlf Kraki are mentioned here 
because they provide an exceptionally good example of the preserva- 
tion and growth of tradition. The basis is partly historical, and founded 
on events which took place in Denmark in the sixth century. Allusion is 
made to them, not only in the rich Icelandic sources, but also in the Old 
English Beowulf and Widsith. 

But in the Norse tradition, the Danish prince has adopted some of 
the qualities of an Odinn hero. Saxo may not fully have realized this. 
In his version of the Bjarkamdl, Odinn appears suddenly on the battle- 
field among the assailants of Hrolf. Arngrimr Jonsson, in his excerpt 
from the Skjqldunga Saga 28 makes this incident plain. When Hrolf was 
returning from a successful raid on Uppsala, Odinn disguised as a 
farmer had offered him a corselet and a cloak ( loricam et clamydem ), but 
the hero had offended him by refusing the gifts. When he realized who 
the farmer was, Hrolf knew that he could expect no more victory. The 
late Icelandic Hrolf s Saga 29 says that neither Hrdlf nor his chosen com- 
panions ever sacrificed to the gods, 30 but it preserves the same motive 
about Hrolf’s refusal of the god’s gifts, and enlarges upon it, telling how 
the disguised Odinn had twice come to the aid of Hrolf with his advice. 
It seems to be implied that Hrolf was under the protection of Odinn but, 
when time was ripe, the war-god turned against him, and took him to 
himself, just as he took Harald Wartooth, Eirfk Bloodaxe and many 
another (see Ghs. II, X). 

By no means all that Saxo heard from the Icelanders was told to him 
in verse. In Ghs. Ill and V, two stories will be cited from Saxo about 
the journeys of a certain Thurkillus. It is the first of these stories which 
concerns us here, and Saxo makes it plain that it had come from the 
men of Thule. 31 In outline it closely resembles the story of Thorsteinn 
Bcejarmagn (P or steins Pattr) found in an Icelandic manuscript of the 
late fifteenth century. Both of these stories describe the visit of a hero, 
Thurkillus or Thorsteinn,. to the terrible and revolting giant Geirrod 
(Geruthus). They derive ultimately from an ancient myth, recorded in 
the Porsdrdpa of the late tenth century, and again by Snorri in his Edda, 
of the perilous journey of the god Th6r to the house of the giant Geirrod. 
Saxo, in fact, makes a direct allusion to the myth. 32 




But the god has been dropped, both from the Icelandic and from 
Saxo’s version. The reasons are not difficult to see. Both of them are 
placed in a Christian or half- Christian setting. Thorsteinn is an attend- 
ant of the Christian King Olaf Tryggvason, and it is upon his kingly 
force ( hamingja ) that he relies in his perils. Thurkillus is not a Christian 
to begin with, but he is a model pagan. When his companions invoked 
their gods, Thurkillus called only on the Lord of the Universe. Before 
the end of his life, Thurkillus went to Germany and adopted the 
Christian religion. 33 

Saxo has enriched his version of this story from wide reading in 
European letters. Some sections of the story of the journey of Thurkillus 
in the frozen north read like the Navigation of Brendan and other Irish 
imramma. He seems also to make use of Adam of Bremen’s account of a 
Friesian expedition to the North Pole. 34 Influences of other European 
literature have also been detected. 35 

Mixed, and confused as it is, Saxo’s story of Thurkillus throws much 
light on the development of mythical tradition in Iceland. He com- 
bines the visit to Geirrod with that to Gudmund, said to be the brother - 
of the giant, ruling a neighbouring territory. This is, of course, Gud- 
mund of Gtesisvellir (the Shining Fields), who is famous in late Ice- 
landic sagas, although never named in early texts. In his glorious king- 
dom, it was said, lay the Odainsakr, the field of eternal life. 36 

Both Thurkillus and Thorsteinn had to pass through the kingdom of 
Gudmund before they reached the giant world of Geirrod, divided from 
it by a river or torrent. Gudmund, according to the Iceland sources, is 
not the brother of Geirrod, but his unwilling vassal. 

The Icelandic Porsteins Pdttr has enriched the story with motives of its 
own, which are often hard to trace, but Saxo shows that, already in his 
day, the Icelanders had combined the myth of Thor and Geirrod with ? 1 

that of Gudmund in his Shining Fields. He thus shows that stories told 
in such late Icelandic texts as the Porsteins Pdttr cannot be too lightly dis- | 

missed. He also shows something about the state of Icelandic tradition 
in the late twelfth century. That which Saxo shares with the Porsteins 
Pdttr must have been in his oral Icelandic source. Saxo is thus one of 
our chief authorities for the state of Icelandic tradition in his age. This 
tradition had grown from exceedingly ancient roots. 

We may doubt whether alliterative poetry in the style of the Edda 
survived in Denmark in the time of Saxo, 37 but we should not belittle 
the importance of Danish folktale and tradition as sources for his his- 
tory. His version of the myth of Baldr and Hod will be mentioned in 
Ch. IV below. So great are the differences between Saxo’s version and 
those given in the Icelandic records that it is hard, in spite of the argu- 


ments of Heusler and others, 38 to believe that Saxo was here following 
an Icelandic, or even a Norwegian source. Indeed, in this section, Saxo 
quotes several folktales based on place-names of Depmark. Much as he 
has added to it, we may believe that the picture which Saxo drew of 
Baldr and Hod was largely a Danish one. 

In general, Saxo’s descriptions of the gods resemble those left by Ice- 
landic writers of his age. Odinn was the chief of them, and was credited 
with the false honour of godhead throughout Europe, while commonly 
residing in Uppsala. 39 He appears under many names, as he does in 
Iceland, and in the disguises typical of Icelandic tradition. He is an old 
man with one eye, appearing at a critical moment. 40 He calls from the 
shore to a favourite hero ; boards his ship and teaches him how to de- 
ploy his army. 41 Odinn calls his chosen warriors to himself when their 
time has come, although Valholl is nowhere named in Saxo’s work. 42 
On one occasion, Odinn rides through the air and over the sea on his 
magical charger. 43 The charger, Sleipnir, was well known to the Ice- 
lander^ but Odinn more often appeared on foot. To judge by the folk- 
tales, collected in modern times, Odinn, the wild rider, was better 
known in Danish than in Icelandic tradition. 44 

Thor is distinguished for his might and armed, if not with a hammer, 
with a club. 45 Freyr residing in Uppsala with his sons, is the patron of 
orgies and revolting sacrifices. 46 He is once presented as King of the 
Swedes. 47 

Although he did not express it so clearly, Saxo shared the belief of 
his Icelandic contemporaries that the gods had come from the near 
East, and their original home was Byzantium. 48 

For Saxo, as for the medieval Icelanders, the gods were not gods, but 
crafty men of old. With superior cunning they had overcome the pri- 
meval giants; they had deluded men into believing that they were 
divine. 49 

But Saxo carried euhemerism further than the Icelanders did. Saxo’s 
gods play a more intimate part in the affairs of men. They beget child- 
ren with earthly women. Baldr, according to Icelandic sources, was son 
of Odinn and Frigg. Saxo also says that he was son of Odinn, but he 
was only a demigod, secretly begotten on an earthly woman. 50 In the 
same way, Odinn in disguise begat Bous on the Ruthenian princess, 
Rinda. 61 

The gods fight with men, and their superior magic does not always 
bring them victory. When they fought for Baldr against his rival, H08, 
who for Saxo was not a god, they were ignominiously put to flight. 52 

Saxo differs from the Icelandic writers chiefly in his bitter contempt 
of the gods and all they stood for. Snorri sometimes poked fun at them, 



but it was a good-humoured fun, of a kind which had no place in 
Saxo’s mind. 

Saxo tells much about the substance of Icelandic traditions living in 
the late twelfth and early thirteenth centuries, but his education was in 
European letters and his literary models were medieval and post- 
classical. He tells little about the forms, whether in prose or in verse, in 
which he received the Icelandic myths. 




God of Poetry — Lord of the Gallows — God of War — Father of Gods and Men — 
6 dim and his Animals — Odinn’s Names — Odinn’ s Eye — The Cult of 6 dim — 
Woden- Wotan 

The Norwegian and Icelandic poets, as well as Snorri, whose work 
derives from theirs, present Odinn as the foremost and chief of all the 
gods. In Snorri’s eyes, Odinn excelled the other gods so far that, in one 
passage ( Gylf 4), he endows Odinn with immortality and other quali- 
ties of the Christian God : 

He will live throughout all ages, ruling his whole kingdom and governing all 
things great and small. He fashioned the earth and the sky and all that is in 
them . . . But the greatest is this, that he created man and gave him the 
spirit which shall live and never perish, even though the body rot to soil or 
burn to ashes. 

God of Poetry 

The immediate reason for the poets’ regard for Odinn is not far to seek. 
Odinn is the god of poetry. He himself was said to speak only in poetry 
( Tngl . S. VI) ; one of his gifts to his favourite Starkad was that of 
making poetry as fast as he could talk (see Ch. X) . 

Odinn was conceived as god of poetry, not in an abstract, but in a 
concrete sense. Poetry is the ‘precious mead’ (him dyri mjpdr), and it was 
Odinn who had brought it from the Other World and given it to gods 
and men. Several versions of this myth are preserved, and we may begin 
with the latest of them, that of Snorri (Skald. 4-6), which is the most 
lucid and detailed. The chief points in Snorri’s story may be sum- 
marized : 

When peace was concluded between the two tribes of gods, the dssir and 
the Vanir (see Ch. VII), the parties signified their friendship by spitting into 
ajar. Not wishing to let this symbol of their union perish, the gods fashioned 
a human figure of their spitde. He was called Kvasir, and he was so wise that 
there was no question which he could not answer. Wandering throughout 
the world, imparting his wisdom to others, Kvasir came to the house of two 



dwarfs, Fjalar and Galar. They killed him secretly, telling the gods that he 
had suffocated in his own wisdom, but they ran off his blood into three vessels, 
whose names were Odrcerir (heart-stirrer), Son and Bodn. 1 Mixing the blood 
with honey, the dwarfs brewed such a mead, that everyone who drinks it 
becomes a poet or man of learning. 

When the dwarfs were later entertaining a giant, Gilling, they murdered 
him by capsizing the boat in which they y^ere rowing. When they told his 
wife, she wept bitterly and, annoyed by her howling, they dropped a mill- 
stone on her head. When Gilling’s son (or nephew), Suttung, heard this, he 
paid a visit to the dwarfs ; he carried them out to a skerry submerged at high 
tide. They saved themselves by giving the mead to Suttung as weregild for his 
father. He took it to his mountain dwelling Hnitbjorg, where he placed it in 
charge of his daughter, GunnloS. 

The story now turns to Odinn. He was travelling under the name Bolverk 
(Evil-doer) and, after some strange adventures (see Odinn’s Names, 
below), he took service with the giant Baugi, brother of Suttung. As his 
wages, Bolverk demanded a drink of Suttung’s mead, but Suttung refused to 
give it. Using his gimlet, Rati, Bolverk bored a hole in the rock of Suttung’s 
castle. He then changed, as he must often have done, into the form of a ser- 
pent, and crawled through the hole. He found the giantess Gunnlod and 
slept with her for three nights. In the end she granted him three sups of the 
mead. In the first he emptied Odrcerir, in the second Bodn, and in the 
third S6n. 

Then Odinn changed into the form of an eagle and flew off, while Suttung 
todk the same form and pursued him. When the gods saw Odinn approach- 
ing they placed jars by the wall of Asgard. Odinn regurgitated the mead into 
these jars but, since Suttung was close on his tail, some of it spilt outside the 
wall. Anyone can drink this, and it is called ‘the fool-poet’s portion’ ( skald - 

When we consider older versions of this myth, we may learn some- 
thing about Snorri’s methods and his use of sources. The closest parallel 
is to be found in Strs. 104-10 of the Havamdl , which are allusive and 
sometimes difficult to interpret. The sequence in these strophes differs 
in some way from that of Snorri’s story : 

Odinn had visited the aged giant Suttung, and his eloquence brought him 
much success (104). Gunnlod gave him a drink of the precious mead, but he 
ill-repaid her generosity (105). With the point of Rati (the gimlet?), he 
bored a hole through the rock (apparently to escape), thus risking his own 
head (106). Now Odrcerir (i.e. the mead) has come to the dwelling of the 
gods (107). Odinn could not have escaped without the help of Gunnlod 
(108). On the next day, frost-giants came to the hall of Hdvi (Hdvahgll, i.e. 
Asgard) to ask news of Bolverk. Was he among the gods, or had Suttung 
killed him (109)? Odinn had sworn an oath on the holy ring, but he had 



not kept it. He had cheated Suttung of his mead and left Gunnlod in tears 


The most noticeable difference between this account of the theft of 
the mead and that given by Snorri is that according to the Hdvamal 
Odinn used Rati, whether a gimlet or not, to escape from the giant’s 
stronghold, whereas, in Snorri’s story, he used it to get in. 2 In the Hava- 
mdl (107), Odrcerir appears to be the -name of the mead, but according 
to Snorri it was the name of a cauldron in which it was brewed or 

In a later section, the so-called Runatals pattr , the Havamdl (140) 
alludes to another version of the story of the acquisition of the mead. 
According to this, it was one of the results of Odinn’s suffering as he 
hung on the windswept tree (see Lord of the Gallows, below). 

The Havamdl (13-14) contains an allusion to yet a third version of 
this myth. The lines may be quoted in full : 

Ominnis hegri heitir, 
sa er yfir gldnrni J>rumir : 
hann stelr gedi guma ; 
j>ess fugls fjgdrum 
ek fjqtradr vark 
i gardi Gunnladar. 

He is called the heron of oblivion, 
who hovers over drinking bouts ; 
he steals the wits of men. 

I was entangled 

in the feathers of that bird 

in the house of Gunnlod. 

Qlr ek vard, 
vard ofrglvi 

at ins froda Fjalars . . . 

I was drunk, 

I was exceedingly drunk 

in the house of the wise Fjalar . . . 2 * 

It is not told elsewhere that Odinn lost his wits when he drank the 
precious liquor, nor that he drank it in the house of the wise Fjalar. 
The name Fjalar is occasionally applied to giants, but since, according 
to Snorri, it was also the name of a dwarf who brewed the mead, we 
may suppose that the author of these lines knew a version of the myth 
in which Odinn had won the mead from the dwarfs. 

Snorri’s ostensible reason for writing his elaborate account of the 
theft of the mead was to explain certain poetic expressions, which would 
otherwise be obscure. Why do the scalds call poetry ‘Kvasir’s blood’, 
‘the water of the dwarfs or of Odrcerir of Hnitbjorg’, or why ‘the mead 
of Suttung’ and ‘the prize of Odinn’ ? 

The story of Odinn’s conquest of the mead is not told in any of the 
scaldic poems, but many of the scalds allude to poetry as the god’s 
possession, theft, or gift. In the Hgfudlausn (Head-Ransom, str. 2), which 
he composed in York about the middle of the tenth century, Egill said : 



berk 05 ins mjgd I bring Odinn’s mead 

k Engla bjgd to the land of the English. 

In the same poem (str. 19), Egill called poetry ‘the sea of Odinn’ 

(0 dins agir). 

Odinn has many names (see below) ; the name ‘Odinn 5 is often re- 
placed by another. Poetry is ‘the cup of Ygg’ ( Yggsfull ), 3 ‘the mead of 
Ygg’ (Tggs mjqdr) ; 4 it is ‘Vidur’s theft 5 ( Vidurs ftjfi), 5 ‘the feast of Gauti 5 
(Gauta gildi }, 6 and again ‘the holy cup of the Raven-god’ 7 (kelga full 
Hrafndsar) , ‘the gift of Grfmnir 5 ( Grimnis gjqf ) . 8 

Sometimes the kennings in which such allusions are made are more 
complicated. Odinn’s mother was Bestla, and poetry was ‘the water- 
fall of Bestla’s son 5 ( forsar Bestlu nibs ) 9 and even ‘the waterfall of the 
burden of Gunnlod’s arms’ {horna fors farms Gunnladar arma) 10 and the 
‘rain of the servants of Haar’, i.e. ‘rain of the poets, Odinn’s servants’. 11 

Odinn delivered the mead to the gods in the form of an eagle, carry- 
ing it in his crop, and the scalds sometimes allude in their imagery to 
this incident in its history. Poetry is ‘the sea of Odinn’s breast 5 ( Vidris 
munstrandar man). 12 In Egill’s words, poetry is ‘the seed of the eagle’s 
bill’ (arnar kjapta qrS) . 13 A poet of the early twelfth century refers to the 
poor verses of his antagonist as ‘the mud of the old eagle’ (leirr hins 
gamla ara), 11 evidently alluding to the ‘fool-poet’s portion’, which fell 
outside the wall of Asgard. 

Before Odinn seized it, the mead had been in the hands of dwarfs 
and giants ; it was brought ages before from the world of giants. 15 But 
since the mead was of no use to gods or men until Odinn stole it, it is not 
surprising that scalds should refer less commonly to these stages in its 
history. Indeed, when they do, it is often difficult to know whether they 
allude to poetry as the property of giants or dwarfs. 

Surt was the name of a vicious fire-giant, and Hallfred, in his lay in 
memory of Olaf Tryggvason (died ad 1000) called poetry ‘the drink of 
Surt’s tribe’ (Surts attar sylgr). 16 Narfi was the name of another giant, 
probably the son of Loki and, in an obscure strophe, Egill called poetry 
‘the inheritance of the sons of Narfi’ ( nidjerf Narfa). 17 A poet of uncer- 
tain age calls his poetry after a frost-giant ‘the river of Hrimnir’s horn’ 
[Hrimnis hornstraumr). 18 In the kenning ‘the cup of Billing’s son’ {Billings 
burar full), 12 the allusion may be either to a giant or a dwarf. 

Poetry is the drink or water of dwarfs. A poet of the twelfth century 
called it ‘the rain of dwarfs’ (dvergregn) 20 and in a verse ascribed, per- 
haps wrongly, to Gisli Sursson (died c. 977), it is ‘the drink of dwarfs 
(dverga dry kkj a). 21 The names of Fjalar and Galar, the dwarfs who brewed 
the sacred mead, are not found in kennings but, following scaldic prac- 



tice, names of other dwarfs are sometimes used instead. Poetry is ‘the 
cup ofDvalinn’ (Dvalins full) 22 ‘the mead of Sudri’ (Sudra mjqdr) 23 

If kennings of this type are somewhat colourless, there are others 
alluding in closer detail to the mead as the possession of the dwarfs. A 
Norwegian of the tenth century called poetry ‘the weregild for Gilling’ 
{Gillings gjqld), 2i and an Icelander of the eleventh century, remember- 
ing that Am (Amr) was the name of a giant and Austri that of a dwarf, 
called it ‘the treaty of Am and Austri’ ( sattir Ams ok Austra) , 26 

Occasionally poetry is called ‘the ship of dwarfs’ {skip dverga ). 26 In 
more sophisticated language, Hallfred called it ‘the boat of Austri’s son’ 
( Austra burar nqkkvi). 27 The allusion appears to be to an incident in- 
cluded in Snorri’s account of the myth : the giant Suttung carried the 
murderous dwarfs to a rock submerged at high tide. They saved then- 
lives by surrendering the precious mead. The mead was therefore the 
ship which carried them away [farskostr dverga) 23 As Snorri tells, the 
mead was brewed from the blood of the sage, Kvasir. Scaldic poetry 
contains only one allusion to this ; Einar Sk&laglamm, an Icelander of 
the late tenth century, called his poetry ‘the blood of Kvasir’ (Kvasis 
dreyri ). 29 

If we examine Snorri’s story in the light of the Hdvamdl and the sur- 
viving scaldic kennings, it is plain that Snorri did not get all his details 
from them, and many have doubted whether any faith should be 
placed in his account of the myth. 30 Some have supposed that Snorri or 
his ‘school’ invented the story to explain the kennings. This is not prob- 
able. We may be satisfied that verses containing such kennings as ‘the 
seed of Odinn’s breast’, ‘the seed of the eagle’s bill’, ‘the mud of the old 
eagle’, ‘Gilling’s weregild’, ‘Kvasir’s blood’, had lived orally for two 
centuries and more before Snorri wrote them down. But poetry of this 
kind could not be understood unless the imagery were explained. The 
explanations must, in this case, have been transmitted orally. Inevitably 
changes would be made in transmission and variant versions of the 
the myth would develop. It has been suggested that Snorri attempted 
to combine two main versions of the myth. In the first, Odinn had stolen 
the mead from the giant Baugi, nowhere named in early poetry as its 
owner. In the second version, which has a sounder basis in surviving 
poetry, the mead was stolen from Suttung, whom Snorri calls the 
brother of Baugi. 31 Already the Hdvamdl implies that there were two, if 
not three versions of this myth. It cannot be said which of them is the 
original, but it can be said that they were current already in the tenth 

Particular interest has been shown in the brewing of the mead from 
the blood of the murdered Kvasir. Snorri once names Kvasir in the 




Tnglinga Saga (Ch. IV) as the wisest of the Vanir, and one of those 
whom the Vanir sent to the dBsir as a hostage when peace was concluded 
between the two tribes. The story that the mead was brewed from his 
blood is supported only by Einar Skalaglamm’s allusion to poetry as 
‘Kvasir’s blood’. It contains elements known from the folklore of many 
countries, probably present in it long before Snorri’s time. The god, or 
sage, Kvasir was created from the spittle of the iEsir and Vanir, and his 
blood was afterwards to provide the basis of the precious mead. 

The use of spittle both as a symbol of friendship and as an agent of 
fermentation is recorded widely . 32 In the Icelandic Hdlfs Saga ok Hdlfs- 
rekka , 33 probably of the fourteenth century, it is told how two women 
competed to brew the best beer. One of them invoked Freyja, but the 
other Odinn who, claiming her unborn son as his price, spat in her beer 
to promote its fermentation . 34 The magical properties of spittle, as of 
blood, are recorded among many peoples . 35 

The name Kvasir has often been associated with Danish kvase (to 
squeeze to extract juice), with English quash and with other Germanic 
words of suchlike meaning . 36 However that may be, the god Kvasir is 
the personification of the divine spittle, and his blood the foundation of 
the divine mead. 

Until recently this incident in the myth was thought to be unique. 
It was G. Dumezil 37 who first noticed a strange parallel in an Indian 
myth. Indra and the other gods had refused the two Nasatya, seen as 
counterparts of the Vanir, entry into their society. An ascetic friend of 
the Nasatya has then created a monster who threatened to swallow the 
world, and Indra gave way. The name of the monster was Mada, 
interpreted as ‘drunkenness’. After he had fulfilled his purpose, the 
dangerous monster was cut into four parts, which today form the 
drunkenness of alcohol, of womanizing, gaming and hunting. In 
India, drunkenness, unless the result of soma, may be considered 
evil, but in Scandinavia the ecstatic states produced by alcohol and 
poetry are holy, taking their place in ritual and even bringing men into 
communion with the gods . 38 If it is difficult to say what are the rela- 
tions between Snorri’s story and the Indian one, it is even more diffi- 
cult, in spite of obvious differences, to believe that their similarities are 

Myths and tales comparable with this one have been told in many 
lands . 39 

The object of the theft of the god or hero is often the water of wis- 
dom, and Irish legend contains versions of it which resemble the Norse 
myth of the sacred mead in several details. In one of these it is told how 
Finn got a drink from the well of Bee mac Buain of the Tuatha De 


Danann . 40 Finn, hunting with two companions, found the door of a 
fairy-mount (sid) open. The three heroes quickly approached, while 
the three daughters of Bee, who guarded the well of wisdom, strove to 
shut the door. The eldest was carrying a bowl of the precious water and, 
in the struggle, some of it spilt into the mouths of Finn and his com- 

The stories of Sigurd who gained wisdom from the dying dragon and 
of Finn who won it from the salmon (see Ch. X, first section), although 
remote from those of Odinn’s acquisition of the mead, and Finn’s of the 
water of wisdom, contain some of the same elements. In all of them the 
god or hero wrests his wisdom from a god or demon of the Other 

But once again, the closest parallel to the story of Odinn is to be 
found in Indian myths about the rape of soma, the half-personified, 
intoxicating sacrificial liquor. It would be rash, in a book of this kind, 
to venture into so specialized and exotic a field, of which I have no 
first-hand knowledge, but I shall rely on such established authorities as 
A. Hillebrandt 41 and A. A. Macdonell . 42 Soma is said to stimulate the 
voice, and to be the leader of poets. Those who drink it become im- 
mortal and know the gods. 

Soma gives strength to gods and men, but especially to Indra. Indra, 
filled with soma, conquered the monster Vritra, and fortified with it he 
performed many a mighty feat. The soma was brought from heaven to 
Indra ; as is frequently told in the Rigveda , it was brought by an eagle. 
The eagle, according to one passage, broke into a fortress of iron to 
seize the soma. Although Indra is occasionally called, or likened to an 
eagle, he does not, in the Rigveda, appear to be identified with the eagle 
who raped the soma. It has, however, been remarked that, in one later 
passage, it is Indra himself, in the form of an eagle, who carried off the 
soma . 43 It is said widely today that Odinn, the priest magician, is a god 
of the first class, corresponding with the Indian Varuna, while Thor, 
the warrior god, belongs to the second class, and corresponds with 

As noticed by Olrik , 44 the myths of the soma and the mead must 
derive from a common source, and be part of Indo-European heritage. 
Are we, therefore, to suppose that Odinn, in this myth, has usurped the 
place of Thor, as he has sometimes usurped the places of other gods? 
Perhaps we should rather doubt the stability of the tripartite system 
(see Conclusion Ch. III). It was appropriate that Odinn, god of magic 
and wisdom, should master the sacred mead. 



Lord of the Gallows 

No more mysterious myth is recorded in Norse literature than that in 
which it is told how Odinn hung for nine nights on a windswept tree. 
This is found in a section of the Hdvamal (strs. 138-45), the so-called 
Runatals Pdttr 3 in words said to be spoken by the god himself. The first 
four strophes, to which I add a tentative translation, read as follows : 

138. Veit ek at ek hekk 
vindga meidi k 
nastr allar niu, 
geiri undadr 

ok gefinn Odni, 
sjdlfr sjalfum m6r, 
a Jjeim meidi, 
er manngi veit, 
hvers hann af rdtum renn. 

139. Vi6 hleifi mik s^ldu 1 
n6 vid hornigi, 
nysta ek nidr, 

nam ek upp riinar, 2 
cepandi nam, 
fell ek aptr Jja^an. 3 

140. Fimbulljdd niu 

nam ek af enum frsegja syni 
Bgl^drs, Bestlu fQdur, 
ok ek drykk of gat 
ens dyra mjadar, 
ausinn Odreri. 

1 41. Pk nam ek fhevask 
ok frddr vera 

ok vaxa ok vel hafask ; 
ord m6r af ordi 
ords leitadi, 
verk m6r af verki 
verks leitadi. 

I know that I hung 
on the windswept tree 
for nine full nights, 
wounded with a spear 
and given to Odinn, 
myself to myself; 
on that tree 
of which none know 
from what roots it rises. 

They did not comfort me with bread, 
and not with the drinking horn ; 

I peered downward, 

I grasped the ‘runes ’, 2 
screeching I grasped them; 

I fell back from there. 

I learned nine mighty songs 
from the famous son 
of Bolthor, father of Bestla, 
and I got a drink 
of the precious mead, 

I was sprinkled with Odrerir, 

Then I began to be fruitful 
and to be fertile, 
to grow and to prosper ; 
one word sought 
another word from me ; 
one deed sought 
another deed from me. 

These lines have been interpreted in many different ways, which 
cannot all be discussed here, and it will be long before agreement can 
be reached on every detail. 

S. Bugge 4 and his followers have seen the hanging Odinn as a pagan 
reflexion of Christ on the Cross. The similarities between the scene 
described here and that on Calvary are undeniable. Christ hung on the 



rood-tree, as an English poet of the Middle Ages said, ‘in the wylde 
wynde 5 ; 5 he thirsted and they gave Him vinegar; like Odinn, Christ 
was pierced with a spear. Before His death Christ cried out in a loud 
voice, just as Odinn cried out as he grasped the ‘runes’. The similarity 
does not end there. The rood- tree, on which Christ died had no roots ; 
the tree on which Odinn hung rose from unknown roots. If the myth 
of the hanging Odinn did not derive from the legend of the dying 
Christ, the two scenes resembled each other so closely that they came 
to be confused in popular tradition. 

A folksong recorded in Unst (Shetland) in the last century 6 includes 
the following lines : 

Nine days he hang pa de rutless tree ; 
for ill was da folk, in’ giid wis he. 

A bliidy mael 7 wis in his side — - 

•made wi’ a lance — ’at wid na hide. 

Nine lang nichts, i’ da nippin rime, 

hang he dare wi’ his naeked limb. 

Some, dey leuch ; 
but idders gret. 

The subject of these lines is Christ, but the .nine days, and perhaps 
the nipping rime accord better with the myth of Odinn than with the 
legend of Calvary. 

While we cannot preclude the possibility of Christian influence on 
the scene described in the Hdvamdl, when we analyse the lines, we realize 
that nearly every element in the Norse myth can be explained as a part 
of pagan tradition, and even of the cult of Odinn. 

The spear was Odinn’s favourite weapon, and already the poet Egill 
called him ‘Lord of the spear’ (geirs drottinn ) 8 He was owner of the 
spear Gungnir, which according to Snorri, 9 was forged by dwarfs. In a 
verse ascribed to Bragi, Odinn was called ‘Gungnir’s shaker’ (Gungnis 
vdfadr ). 10 In the Tnglinga Saga (Ch. IX), where Odinn is described as a 
mortal king of the Swedes, it is said that before he died in his bed, Odinn 
had himself marked with a spear-point believing that he would go to 
the world of gods (Godheimr). Njord, who followed Odinn, evidently 
did the same for, on his death-bed, he had himself ‘marked for Odinn’. 
It was appropriate that Odinn, as he hung on the tree, should be stabbed 
with his own weapon. 

Odinn is also the god of the dead and particularly of the hanged. A 
poet of the mid-tenth century called him ‘lord of the gallows’ (gdlga 
valdr), 11 while others called him ‘god of the hanged’ (hangatyr, kangagod ).“ 

But the scalds saw Odinn not only as the lord of the gallows and the 



hanged; they saw him also as the victim of the gallows. One of the 
names by which he was known was Hangi (the hanged). 13 Even more 
graphically, Eyvind the Plagiarist called Odinn ‘the load of the gal- 
lows’ ( gdlga farmr). li 

Odinn’s relations with the gallows and the hanged are explained 
more fully in a later section of the Havamal (str. 157). If he saw a 
gallows-bird swinging on a tree above him, he could carve and paint 
such runes that the dead man would walk and talk to him. Again in the 
Tnglinga Saga (Ch. VII), Snorri tells that Odinn would awaken the 
dead and sit down beneath hanged men. It was perhaps for this reason 
that a poet of the eleventh century called him ‘visitor of the hanged’ 
(. hanga keimpingadr) . 15 

Odinn is among other things, the recipient of human sacrifice, as may 
be illustrated by a story of the hero Starkad, incorporated in the longer 
version of the Gautreks Saga (Ch. VII), and told in a slightly different 
form by Saxo. (See Ch. X, Starkad.) 

The famous champion, Starkad, was one of Odinn’s favourites. Together 
with his foster-brother, King Vikar of Agdir (S.W. Norway), and a number 
of other champions, he engaged in warlike ventures in coastal districts. The 
King esteemed none of his champions so highly as Starkad, and they fought 
together for fifteen years. It happened once that the party lay becalmed off 
an island and, casting sacrificial chips to find out how to get a favourable 
wind, they learned that it was Odinn’s will that one of their number, chosen 
by lot, should be hanged as a sacrifice to him. When the lots were cast, the 
name of King Vfkar came up, and the champions were dumbfounded. They 
resolved to meet on the following day, and discuss what steps should be 

During the night, Starkad was awakened by his old foster-father, who, 
assuming the name Hrossh&rsgrani (Horse-hair-bearded), ordered the hero 
to follow him. They took a boat and rowed to a neighbouring island, where 
they came to a clearing in the forest. There they found eleven men sitting on 
chairs, while a twelfth chair stood empty. As Hrosshirs-Grani sat down in 
the empty chair, the others greeted him by the name of Odinn. Odinn told 
his companions that the time had now come to determine the destiny of 

The first to speak was no other than the god Thor. As the enemy of the 
giants, Th6r had a grudge against Starkad. Starkad descended from giants, 
for his grandmother had given her favours to a very wise giant ( hundviss 
jqtunn) instead of to Thor himself. Thor’s first judgment was that Starkad 
should beget neither son nor daughter, and his race should die with him. But 
Odinn gave it as his judgment that Starkad should have three spans of life, to 
which Th6r replied that he would commit a dastardly act during each one of 
these three spans. Odinn said that Starkad should have splendid weapons 



and treasures in plenty, but Thor said that he would never own land and 
never be satisfied with what he had. Odinn gave Starkad the gift of poetry, 
saying that he would make verse as fast as he could talk, but Thor said that 
he would never remember a line of his verse. Odinn said that Starkad would 
be prized by the highest and noblest men, but Thor laid down that he 
would be loathed by all the commonalty. 

Then Odinn conducted Starkad back to his party, and as he left him, 
Odinn said that he would expect some payment for the great gifts which he 
had bestowed upon him: Starkad must send King Vikar to him. As he said 
this, Odinn handed the hero a spear, which looked like nothing other than a 
harmless reed. 

When the champions met on the following morning, they resolved to make 
a token sacrifice of their king. Beside them stood a fir-tree, from which a 
slender twig drooped, and below it was a stump. The cooks were busy 
slaughtering a calf, and when the gut was drawn, Starkad tied a noose in it, 
and hung it on the drooping twig. The king now stepped on to the tree- 
stump ; the noose was placed round his neck, and Starkad struck him with a 
reed, saying : ‘Now I give you to Odinn’. At that moment, the reed turned 
into a bitter spear, the stump fell from beneath the king’s feet, and the calf’s 
gut became a tough rope. The slender twig was now a stout branch, and it 
sprang aloft, raising the king to the upper limbs of the tree, where he gave 
up his life. Starkad had accomplished the first of his dastardly acts. 

The similarities between this story and that of Odinn on the tree are 
evident. In both of them the victim is at once hanged and gashed with 
a spear. In both cases he is ‘given’ to Odinn, and similar phrases are 
used. While Odinn says that he was ‘given to Odinn, myself to myself’ 
{gefinn 6dni , sjdlfr sjdlfum mer ), Starkad says, as he lunges at his king 
with Odinn’s spear: ‘now I give you to Odinn’ (nu gef ek pik 6 dm). 16 

Odinn’s relations with the gallows and their victims are complicated. 
When he made the hanged men talk, or sat down beneath them, he 
was clearly in quest of occult wisdom, which- belongs only to the dead, 
just as he was when he woke up dead men, 17 and rode to the gates of 
Hel, calling a sibyl, long dead, from her grave, to ask her what fate held 
in store for Baldr. 18 The sibyl, born long ago, who told of the past and 
the future in the VQluspa, may well have been called by Odinn from 
her grave, to sink back when the prophecy was finished. 19 

We may wonder what kind of wisdom it was that Odinn acquired 
from the dead, and especially from the hanged. The sibyl in the 
Baldrs Draumar told reluctantly of Baldr’s fate, and the one in the 
VQluspa told of the origin of the world, of men and gods and especially 
of the Ragnarok. 

Odinn, as it is said, acquired the mead, the art of poetry, from giants 
and perhaps, according to another version of the myth, from dwarfs. 



But according to a cryptic allusion made by the Orkney poet, Bishop 
Bjarni Kolbeinsson, early in the thirteenth century, he seems to have 
learned the art from the hanged. Bjarni said : 

Varkak frodr und forsum, I did not grow wise under waterfalls , 20 

fdrk aldrigi at ggldrum. I never dabbled in magic ; 

gllungis namk eigi by no means did I learn 

Yggjar feng und hanga the prize of Ygg (i.e. the art 

of poetry) under the hanged . 21 

In the Norse tradition, Odinn is the chief, although not the only re- 
cipient of human sacrifice. In the one detailed account of a sacrifice to 
Odinn, that of King Vi'kar, the victim was hanged on a tree. The Greek 
historian, Procopius, writing about the middle of the sixth century 
about the customs of the men of Thule (Thulites) said that they would 
offer their first prisoner of war to the god Ares, deeming this the highest 
form of sacrifice. They would hang the victim on a tree, or throw him 
among thorns. 22 Jordanes, 23 writing about the same period, spoke of 
similar practices among the Goths. They sacrificed their prisoners to 
Mars, believing that the lord of war would be placated by human 
blood, and they hung the captured war- trappings on trees. Whether or 
not Ares and Mars should be identified with Odinn, both of them, like 
Odinn, must be regarded as gods of war. 

It does not follow that all of Odinn’s victims were hanged, nor even 
that all sacrificial hangings were dedicated to Odinn. Snorri 24 tells that, 
in time of famine, the Swedes ‘gave their king’, Olaf Woodcutter, to 
Odinn, burning him in his house. This story seems to be supported by 
the Tnglinga Tal (str. 21), although it is possible that Snorri misunder- 
stood his source, and that the poet alluded rather to cremation of the 
king after he was dead. 26 

In another passage, Snorri 26 tells how the Swedes suffered famine in 
the reign of King Ddmaldi. In the first autumn they sacrificed oxen, 
but the harvests were no better ; in the second autumn they sacrificed 
men, and in the third they fell upon their king and reddened the altars 
with his blood. In the Tnglinga Tal (str. 5), which Snorri quotes, it is 
said that the Swedes reddened the earth with the blood of their lord. 
The Norwegian Historia Norvegiae , 27 probably written rather earliet 
than Snorri’s work, gives a different version of this story. The Swedes 
hanged their king for the fertility of the crops. The victim was not, in 
this case, dedicated to Odinn, but to Ceres, by whom the historian 
probably meant Freyja. It is possible that, in the original story, from 
which the Tnglinga Saga, the Tnglinga Tal and the Historia Norvegiae 



derive, the king’s blood was shed while he hung on a gibbet or a tree. 

Odinn, as the sources suggest, was most readily placated with royal 
or princely victims, whether hanged or not. It was told of another king 
of the Swedes, Aun the Old, that he struck a bargain with the god. 
Odinn granted the king ten years of fife for every one of his sons that he 
sacrificed (gaf ) . He had sacrificed nine of them and grown so old that 
he had to lie in bed and drink out of a horn like a baby. But when it 
came to the tenth son, the king’s subjects put a stop to the sacrifice, and 
he died a natural death. 28 

In the Gautreks Saga it was said that the king was not only hanged, but 
also pierced with a spear. As already remarked, the spear was 0 Sinn’s 
favourite weapon, as shown by many allusions both in older and later 
literature. 29 It was, thus, natural that a victim sacrificed, or ‘given’ to 
Odinn should be transfixed with a spear. According to a prose passage 
in the Second Lay of Helgi Hundingsbani (24 ff) a certain Dag offered 
sacrifice to Odinn, so that he might avenge his father on his brother-in- 
law, Helgi, who had killed him. Odinn lent Dag his spear {geirs sins), and 
Dag ran it through his brother-in-law by Fjoturland (Fetter-grove). 

Those who fell in battle might be regarded as gifts to Odinn, but 
particularly, it seems, victims of the spear or javelin. The Styrbjarnar 
Pdttr 30 contains an incident in one way reminiscent of the story of Vfkar. 
On the night before he joined battle with his nephew Styrbjorn, Eirfk 
the Victorious, King of the Swedes (died c. 993) went into the temple 
and ‘gave himself’ (. gafsk ) to the god for victory, stipulating that he 
should have ten more years to live. Soon afterwards a big man ap- 
peared in a broad-brimmed hat. He gave Eirik a reed (reyrsproti) , telling 
him to hurl it over his nephew’s army, saying: ‘you all belong to 
Odinn’ ( Odinn dydr alia). As the reed flew through the air, it appeared 
to be a javelin (gaflak). Styrbj ora’s men were struck blind and a moun- 
tain fell on them. Allusion is made to a practice of this kind in the more 
realistic Eyrbyggja Saga (Ch. XLIV). Before a battle started, one of the 
chiefs hurled a spear over the enemy, ‘following an ancient custom’ (at 
fornurn si 5 ), as if to dedicate them to the battle-god. Even Odinn him- 
self was said to observe this custom, for, at the opening of the first war 
in the world, when the ^Esir fought the Vanir (see Gh. VII), he hurled 
a spear, or javelin into the enemy host. 31 

We have seen Odinn as the lord of the gallows, the god of the hanged, 
the god of the spear and the chief recipient of human sacrifice. It might 
be expected that his victims should be hanged or gashed with a spear, 
but if they were hanged and gashed at once, the ritual would be more 
nearly complete. 

A number of Odinn’s legendary victims have been named, and they 



were mostly kings or princes, and not the ‘worst men’, criminals hurled 
over cliffs or crushed against rocks, such as pagans of the last period were 
said to sacrifice. 32 

The highest sacrifice to Odinn of which we have read in this world 
was that of King Vfkar, for not only was he hanged and pierced, but 
he was also a king. But a still higher sacrifice must be that of the king 
of the gods, swinging in the wind from a tree and gashed with a spear. 

Like King Vfkar, Odinn hung on a tree, and not on a hand-made 
gibbet, as many unfortunate men were said to do. 33 But the tree from 
which Odinn swung was no ordinary tree. It can hardly be other than 
the World Tree, the holy Yggdrasill. Tggr (the terrifier, awe-inspirer) 
is one of 0 Sinn’s names, and drasill is a common word in poetry for a 
‘horse’. In spite of arguments to the contrary, 34 the compound Yggdrasill 
can hardly mean other than ‘Odinn’s horse’. 

Scalds frequently refer to the gallows or gallows-tree as a horse. The 
basic word is either Sleipnir , the name of 0 Sinn’s mythical horse, 35 or 
else the allusion is to the legend told by Saxo 36 of Sigar, who hanged 
his daughter’s lover, HagbarS, giving the gallows the name ‘Sigar’ s 
horse’ [Sigars jor) zl The metaphor is carried further. Men swing on the 
gallows, and the verb riba means both ‘to swing’ and ‘to ride’. There- 
fore, Sigvat said in his lay in memory of St Olaf, ‘men ride to the world 
of death on Sigar’s horse’ {riba . . . til Heljar Sigars kesti ). Z8 We may also 
remember that the horse was a symbol of death, carrying men to an- 
other world, a concept which may have influenced the diction of the 
scalds. 39 

The sacrifice of Odinn to himself may thus be seen as the highest 
conceivable form of sacrifice, in fact so high that, like many a religious 
mystery, it surpasses our comprehension. It is the sacrifice, not of king 
to god, but of god to god, of such a kind as is related in Scripture of the 
sacrifice of Christ. 

Every gift, every sacrifice looks for its reward, 40 and we may wonder 
what Odinn achieved by his supreme sacrifice. The answer is given in 
the verses. OSinn won the ‘runes’ and the secrets which go with them; 
he learned nine mighty magic songs, and got a drink of the precious 
mead of poetry. He grew and he prospered and became fruitful so that 
one word brought forth another, one deed gave rise to another. In 
other words, Odinn became the master of magic and of secret wisdom. 

In str. 139 of the Havamdl , which was lately quoted, there was some 
doubt whether runar should be interpreted as ‘runes’, the magic sym- 
bols, or as ‘secret wisdom’. However that may be, it is shown in str. 144 
that, by his sacrifice, Odinn learnt the arts of carving runes, painting 
them, of invocation and of sacrifice. 



From whom did Odinn wrench such wisdom? Again the answer is 
partly given. Odinn learned the mighty songs from the son of Bolthor 
(Bglporr). Bolthor, whom Snorri calls Bolthorn (Bglpom)* 1 , was a giant, 
and was father of Bestla, Odinn’s giantess mother. The famous son of 
Bolthorn must, in this case, be a giant and Odinn’s maternal uncle. It 
was appropriate that Odinn should learn the mighty songs from a, 
maternal uncle, for a man has no closer ties. 42 Odinn’s uncle, like his 
mother and grandfather, must have belonged to the giant tribe. 

Giants are said to be exceedingly wise [hundviss, alsvimr,fr 66 r). Many 
of them are also said to be very old ( aldinn ) , as Odinn, their descendant, 
' is said to be. 43 The giants were born an immeasurable time ago, 44 and 
this must contribute to their wisdom. Like the dead, they live in hills 
and rocks. They may be seen as the devouring demons of death, and 
even as the dead themselves. 

Odinn, god of poetry, runes and magic, acquired much of his wis- 
dom from his giant relatives, and particularly from the wise giant 
Vafthrudnir. Vafthrudnir could tell the secrets of the giants and of all 
the gods for he had travelled through all the nine worlds ; he had even 
penetrated Niflhel, into which men pass from the world of death (Hel), 
as if dying for a second time. 45 

On these lines we can partly interpret the strange strophes of the 
Hdvamdl. Odinn, swinging on the tree of the world, was in the eom- 
I pany of the dead, sharing the wisdom which only they possess. But this 

is nearly the same as to say that the god was himself dead. If wisdom 
could be won from a dead delinquent swinging on the gallows, how 
much more could be gained from Odinn after he had passed through 
the world of death. 

Like Christ, Odinn rose from death, now fortified with the occult 
wisdom which he communicated to gods and men. This thought is 
conveyed in the last lines of the Runatal (str. 145) where it says : this is 
what Thund (Pundr, Odinn) wrote (reist) before men’s fates were laid 
down, where he rose up when he came back. 

! Odinn hung on the tree for nine nights. This might at first sight seem 

to reflect the legend of Christ who rose from the dead on the third day. 
But the significance of the number nine in Norse heathendom must be 
deeper than this. 46 We read in the Vqluspd (stra. 2) and the Vafprubnismdl 
(str. 43) of nine worlds, and it was said of Heimdall that he was the son 
of nine mothers. 47 In fact, this number seems to be associated especially 
with Odinn and with sacrifice. Odinn learnt nine mighty songs from 
the son of Bolthor. 

According to Adam of Bremen, the notorious festival at Uppsala was 
held every nine years, and continued for nine days. Nine head of every 



living thing was sacrificed, and the bodies were hung on trees sur- 
rounding the temple (See Ch. XII below.). We could believe that the 
hanged victims were dedicated to Odinn, whose image stood with 
those of Thor and Fricco in the temple of Uppsala. 

As was said at the beginning of this chapter, it is not impossible that 
the myth of Odinn was influenced by that of Christ on the Cross. But 
if so, the Christian motives have been made to accord thoroughly with 
traditional pagan ones. We could believe that a viking in the British 
Isles had seen an image of the dying Christ, whom he identified with 
the dying Odinn. This might give rise to the poetic expression of the 
myth and the combination of motives such as hanging as a sacrifice of 
god to god, thirst, piercing with a spear and rising again, although 
every one of these had its roots in pagan tradition. 48 

Odinn did not only thirst, he also fasted. A. G. van Hamel 49 has 
drawn attention to many instances in Irish legend in which men fast, 
and thus gain mystical power over their antagonists. 

The views expressed in this section may appear different from those 
generally current today, although the differences are not fundamental. 
The sacrifice of Odinn has been seen widely as an initiation ceremony, 
and practices of shamans of Finno-Ugric culture have been com- 
pared. 50 Initiation is regarded largely as a symbolic death, often 
followed by the rebirth of the initiate under another name. It is well 
possible that such ceremonial practices were known to the Norsemen 
in very early times, but the literary sources give scant evidence of 
them. 51 

The myth of Odinn seems to represent a real rather than a symbolic 
death. There is no way to master all the wisdom of the dead but to die. 
Odinn died, and like Christ he rose up and came back. We may re- 
member a story quoted by J. G. Frazer 52 about an Eskimo shaman of 
the Bering Strait, who burned himself alive, expecting to return with 
greater wisdom. 

God of War 

Snorri’s story of Odinn’s journey to rob the mead of poetry includes a 
grotesque and apparently irrelevant episode. The god came to a 
meadow, where nine thralls were mowing. Drawing a whetstone from 
his belt, he sharpened their scythes, and when they found the blades 
so much sharper than before, the thralls asked to buy the stone. Odinn 
said that the purchaser would have to pay a fair price, but since they 
all wanted it, he hurled the stone into the air. The nine thralls struggled 
for it, and ended by slashing each other’s heads with their scythes. 1 

Odinn then went his way, calling himself Bolverk, and came to the 



giant Baugi, for whom the thralls had been working. He took their 
place and did the work of nine men. 

The origins of this peculiar story had been discussed widely. It bears 
some resemblance to the story of Lityerses, said to be of Asiatic origin. 
Lityerses would induce travellers to work for him and, when they 
failed to keep up with him in reaping, he would chop off their heads 
and wrap their bodies in sheaves. Stories of Cadmus, Jason and the 
dragon’s teeth have also been compared. When the hero sowed the 
teeth, armed men sprang from the soil, and the hero provoked them 
to fight each other, in one case by hurling a stone into their midst. 2 

Whatever its origins, Snorri’s story serves as a caricature of Odinn, 
and explains his name Bolverk or ‘Evil-doer’. Odinn was god of war, 
and it was in his interest to promote strife. For this reason, poets called 
him Hnikarr, Hnikudr , names which probably imply ‘the one who incites 
to battle’. 3 In the Harbardsljod (str. 24), Odinn is made to boast that he 
had always incited princes against each other, and never made peace 
between them. 4 

We might expect the northern god of war to be noble, valiant, and 
an example to every soldier, but Odinn was far from that. According to 
the sources in which he is most fully described, he was evil and sinister. 
He delighted especially in fratricidal strife and in conflict between 
kinsmen. It is told in the Helgakvida Hundingsbana II 6 how Dag sacrificed 
to Odinn, who lent him a spear, with which to kill his sister’s husband, 

It is thus that Odinn is depicted in the Gesta Danorum of Saxo and in 
some of the Heroic Sagas. Saxo told how Odinn, as usual in disguise, 
promoted dissension between Harald Wartooth and his nephew Hring, 
culminating in the battle of Br&vellir. 6 The Heidreks Saga of the late 
thirteenth century contains the story of a certain Gizur, nicknamed 
Grytingalidi. 7 Gizur ’s function in the saga was to provoke war between 
Angantyr, King of the Goths, and his half-brother, Hlod, King of the 
Huns. Some have seen Gizur as an emanation of Odinn, or even as 
Odinn himself. It would be difficult to know whether Gizur was con- 
ceived as Odinn already in the tradition upon which the Heidreks Saga 
was based, but there can be little doubt that those who compiled and 
listened to the saga in the thirteenth century saw him as such. Gizur 
was a common personal name in Iceland, but in the Pulur (name-lists) 8 
it was also applied to Odinn. It is still more telling that in the Malshatt- 
akvadi , probably of the early thirteenth century, Odinn was called 
Gizur and was described almost in the same words as he was in the 
Hdrbardsljod, as the promoter of strife : 



Gizur var5 at rogi sadr Gizur was guilty of slander 

etja vildi jQfrum saman he would incite princes against 

each other. 9 

It is hardly less remarkable that, in a verse composed in 1261, Sturla 
Thordarson replaced the name of Gizur Jarl, who had cheated him, 
with those of Odinn and Gaut, another Odinn name. 10 

We may wonder how old and how fundamental is the conception of 
Odinn as the promoter of strife and the source of evil. When Odinn 
stole the mead, as is described in the Hdvamal , u his motives may have 
been virtuous, but his methods were reprehensible, and he had broken 
his most sacred oath. Even in these lines he bore the name Bolverk 
(Evil-doer), a name by which he was also said to call himself in the 
Grlmnismdl (str. 47). 

The ages of the poems and legends just quoted may be questioned, 
but something more may be learnt about Odinn’s place in Norse 
heathendom from the histories of the kings and the poems about them. 
In the Hakonarmdl, composed in memory of Hakon the Good (c. 961-3), 
Odinn was described as malicious (illudigr) , 12 The story of Eirik Blood- 
axe is more illustrative and more complicated. After Eirik was killed 
in England in 954, his widow, Gunnhild, ordered a poet to compose a 
lay in his memory. The subject, as will be explained in a later chapter, 13 
was the reception of Eirik by the fallen heroes, Sigmund and Sinfjotli, 
and by Odinn in Valholl. Odinn had called Eirik because he needed his 
support, and Eirik, who had brought five kings with him, is presented 
as Odinn’s particular favourite. The reasons are not difficult to see. No 
king of Norway was better fitted to be the chosen hero of Odinn, and 
none had held the bonds of kindred in deeper contempt. Eirik had ruth- 
lessly slaughtered his brothers and, in the words of one saga, had hurled 
his kinsmen against the wall. 14 

Adam of Bremen (IV, xxvii) tells how, in case of war, the Swedes 
would sacrifice to Odinn, and Snorri, in his life of Hakon the Good, 15 
tells that the men of Thrandheim drank the toasts of Njord and Freyr 
for fruitful harvests and peace, but of Odinn for victory and the success 
of their king. 

As the god of war, Odinn apportions victory, as is plainly stated in 
the HyndMjod (str. 3). Among his many names were Sigfadir (father of 
victory) and Sigrhqfundr (judge or author of victory). 

As will be explained in closer detail in Ch. X, Odinn is often de- 
scribed as the patron and protector of legendary heroes. He teaches 
them strategy, or makes them invulnerable to steel. Such heroes may, 
in some cases, be seen as earthly representatives of the god himself, as 


Gizur, who was described in the Heidreks Saga, appeared to be. Odinn 
■was also the guardian, and even the ancestor of illustrious families. The 
Volsungar stood under his protection and the name of one of them, 
Sigmund, was also applied to Odinn. 16 

It was said that Odinn often awarded victory unjustly 17 , and it is a 
standard motive that, in the end, the god turns against his own 
favourites. In Sigmund’s last battle a one-eyed man came against him 
wearing a black cloak and wielding a spear. When the hero’s sword 
struck the spear, the sword broke ; the battle turned against him, and 
Sigmund lost his life. 18 Several stories illustrating this aspect of Odinn’s 
character will be quoted in Gh. X, below. These will be drawn mostly 
from Saxo and from Heroic Sagas, but it is plain that the motive is an 
old one. It is present in the Lay of H&kon and is expressed even more 
plainly in the Lay of Eirik. Odinn needed his favourites to support 
him in Valholl, for he apprehended that the Ragnarok might come at 
any minute. 

Earlier in this chapter a few passages were quoted showing that those 
who fell in battle were taken into Odinn’s band. It was suggested that 
victims of the . spear were especially welcome to the war-god. But it was 
a widespread belief, or at least a poetic conceit, that every fallen war- 
rior went to Odinn. Consequently, those who slew their enemies in 
battle could regard the act as a sacrifice to the war-god. This thought is 
occasionally expressed by Saxo and in the Heroic Sagas. Harald War- 
tooth, in exchange for the invulnerability which Odinn granted him, 
promised the souls of all he killed to Odinn. 19 In the battle of Brdvellir, 
the same hero dedicated {gaf) all who fell to the god. 20 According to the 
Orkneyinga Saga (Ch. VIII) Torf-Einar, Jarl of Orkney, captured a 
rebellious son of Harald Finehair, cut his ribs from the back, symbo- 
lizing the blood-eagle (see Gh. XIII) and ‘gave’ him to Odinn. 

We may place little faith in the prose sources just quoted, but the 
same thought is expressed time after time by poets of the heathen age. 
An Icelander of the mid-tenth century, objecting to his widowed 
mother’s suitor, met him at the cross-roads and killed him. He com- 
memorated the deed in a verse : he had given his enemy to Odinn ; he 
had paid the sacrifice ( tafn ) of Gaut (i.e. Odinn) to the lord of the gal- 
lows and fed a corpse to the raven. 21 

Hakon the Great (died 995) was remembered as the most ardent 
pagan among Norway’s rulers, and several poets said, in praise of him, 
that he had given his enemies to Odinn. Thorleif said that H&kon had 
sent nine princes to Odinn and the raven was eating their flesh, 22 and 
Einar, in the Vellekla , 23 that the warlike Hakon had swelled the follow- 
ing of Thund (i.e. Odinn). Already one of Harald Finehair’s poets said 




that slaughtered men lying on the sand were dedicated to the one-eyed 
consort of Frigg. 24 

The dead warriors go to Odinn’s palace, Valholl, as is stated in the 
Eiriksmdl and the HdkonarmdL There they join the ranks of Odinn’s 
glorious band, awaiting the Ragnarok. 

The scaldic poets have little to say of Valholl, and their allusions to it 
are generally obscure. The only detailed descriptions of it are found in 
the Grimnismdl (strs, 8-10, 23-26) and in Snorri’s Gylfaginning (Ghs. 
24-5), based mainly on this poem. 

Valholl stands in Gladsheimr, the World of Joy; its rafters are spear- 
shafts and the tiles are shields, as was known already by Harald Fine- 
hair’s poet, Porbjom Homklofi , 25 A wolf lurked to the west of the en- 
trance and an eagle hovered over the building. There Odinn dwelt 
with his wolves, Geri and Freki, and his ravens, Huginn and Muninn, 
who fly over the world every day. Odinn lives on wine alone, but the 
fallen warriors feast on the flesh of the boar Sahrimnir which, accord- 
ing to Snorri, 26 is stewed every day and arises whole in the evening. 
The warriors drink the liquor which flows from the udders of the goat, 
Heidrun, nourished by the foliage of the tree Leradr. These warriors 
fight each other in the courts every day, but in the evening they sit to- 
gether at peace. 27 

The gate, through which the fallen warriors probably enter, is 
called Valgrind (Grill of the Fallen), and the palace has no less than 
five hundred and forty (i.e. 640) doorways. Eight hundred (i.e. 960) 
warriors will march abreast through each doorway, when they go to 
fight the wolf in the Ragnarok. 28 

The description of Valholl has more to do with art than with popular 
belief. The splendid picture is not free from foreign influences. The 
glorious hall is modelled on a royal palace, but such palaces were not 
to be found in Scandinavia in the heathen age. J. Grimm 29 observed 
that, according to a chronicler of the tenth century, Charles the Great 
had set up a flying eagle of bronze on the roof of his palace. Later 
scholars have carried the comparison with European architecture fur- 
ther, and M. Olsen sees the Valholl described in the Edda as the re- 
flexion of a Roman amphitheatre, or even of the Colosseum, which a 
Scandinavian traveller had seen. There the warriors fight, day in day 
out. The building has many doors, and the Emperor, presiding in the 
high seat, might correspond with Odinn, presiding in Valholl. 30 

Olsen’s arguments should not be rejected as lightly as they have 
been, 31 but they apply to the picture of Valholl drawn by the poets of 
the Edda, and not to the fundamental conceptions underlying the 



Formally, the name Valholl could mean ‘the foreign hall’, and it has 
sometimes been interpreted in this way, 32 although it more probably 
means the ‘castle of the slain’. The word valr is applied collectively to 
corpses slain in battle. 33 It has been noticed that the name Valhall is 
applied to certain rocks in southern Sweden, and these were believed 
to be dwelling-places of the dead. 34 It is, therefore, likely that the 
second element in the name Valhqll was not originally hqll (hall), but 
rather hallr (rock). In this case, it was the imagination of the poets 
which turned the rock of the dead into a noble, glorious palace. 

If this is so, Valholl represents little more than a refinement of the 
common belief that the dead dwell in a rock, or that men die into a 
rock, as they died into the Helgafell in western Iceland. 35 Odinn pre- 
sides over them, originally perhaps as god of death rather than as god 
of war. 

Fatker of Gods and Men 

In one of his less consistent passages Snorri 1 says that Odinn is called 
Alfqdr (Alfadir, ‘Father of All’) because he is father of all gods and 
men. He is father, not only of Thdr, but also of Thor’s mother, Jor 5 
(Earth) . 

Many myths of the northern gods are difficult to reconcile with this 
statement. Odinn can hardly, in pagan tradition, have been father of 
the Vanir, Njord, Freyr, Freyja, with whom he went to war (see Ch. 
VII, first section). Loki, who was included among the gods (iEsir), was 
said to be son of the giant Fdrbauti. According to one tradition, Heim- 
dall was the father of men, 2 and it is improbable that this son of nine 
mothers had Odinn for his father. 

Nevertheless, Odinn was father of a number of gods. His legitimate 
wife was Frigg, with whom he sometimes sat on his throne at Hlidskj&lf 
looking over all the worlds. 3 By Frigg, Odinn was father of the ill-fated 
Baldr, and he begat Vali on Rind so that he might take vengeance for 

The ancestry of Odinn and of his two brothers, Vili and Ve, is itself 
puzzling. Their mother was Bestla, daughter of the giant Bolthor 
(Bolthorn), 4 and their father was Bur (Bor),, son of Buri (Buri). Buri, in 
Snorri’s well-known story of creation, 5 had neither father nor mother, 
but was made by the primeval cow, Audumla, as she licked the salty 
rocks into the shape of a man. 

If Odinn was not the father of men, he played sufficient part in their 
creation to be called Aldafqdr (Father of men). As Snorri tells, 6 Odinn 
and his brothers, walking by the seashore, came upon two tree-trunks, 
which they shaped into the man and woman, Askr and Embla , 7 from 



whom the human race is descended. The Vgluspd (strs. 17-18) contains 
a different version of this myth ; Odinn was accompanied, not by Vili 
and Ve, but by Hosnir and Lodur. 8 Each of these contributed his own 
gift to the animated figures, and Odinn’s gift was grid (breath, life, 
spirit) . 

Odinn was not only patron and protector of famous heroes ; he was 
also seen as the ancestor of princely families. He was said to be the 
father of Sigi, ancestor of the Volsungar, 9 and of Skjold, the eponymous 
father of the Skjoldungar, the kings of the Danes. 10 He was even called 
the father of Yngvi, 11 who is identified with Freyr, and said to be 
ancestor of the Ynglingar, the kings of the Swedes. 

These relationships are probably based upon learned conjecture, and 
influenced by foreign models. The royal houses of England were com- 
monly said to descend from Odinn (Woden), and English genealogies 
were known in Iceland in the twelfth century. 12 A more ancient tradi- 
tion may be preserved in the story that the Jarls of Hladir (. Hlada Jarlar), 
rulers of northern Norway, descended from Odinn. Their ancestor, 
Saeming, was said by Eyvind the Plagiarist in the Haley gjatal (c. 985) to be 
a son of Odinn and of Skadi, formerly wife of Njord. 3 

Odinn’s Animals 

Odinn was accompanied by certain animals, and among them was the 
horse, Sleipnir. Allusions to this horse in early poetry are compara- 
tively few ; he was described in the Grimnismdl (str. 44) as the finest of 
horses, runes were carved on his teeth ( Sigrdnfumdl 15), and in the 
Hyndluljod (str. 40) it was said that he was born of Loki and Svadilfari. 
This incident is not easy to understand, but Snorri 1 explains it in 
curious detail. Loki had taken the form of a mare and, after copulating 
with the giant’s horse, Savdilfari, he bore the grey foal, Sleipnir. Sleip- 
nir, as is told both by Snorri and in one of Gestumblindi’s riddles, 2 had 
eight legs. 

The horse and his phallus are well-known symbols of fertility, and are 
associated especially with the god Freyr. 3 It could, therefore, be sup- 
posed that, as god of the horse, Odinn was beginning to usurp the place 
of Freyr, as he usurped that of many another god. 4 But another ex- 
planation is more probable. Fertility cults and symbols were closely 
linked with those of death. In the Tnglinga Tal (str. 14) the gallows are 
the ‘high-chested rope-Sleipnir’ ( hdbrjostr hqrva Sleipnir ), and in the 
same poem (str. 7) the goddess of death was called Glitnis Gnd, which 
probably means ‘goddess (valkyrie of the horse’, i.e. goddess in horse 
form) . This may possibly be the meaning of the word jodis applied to 
the death-goddess in the same strophe. 5 



The hundreds of horses found buried in graves throughout Scan- 
dinavia, about sixteen in the Oseberg grave alone, suggest close asso- 
ciation between horses and death. 6 The stately horses depicted on the 
Oseberg tapestries, 7 some mounted and others drawing chariots, may 
well be carrying their charges to the other world. Hakon the Good, 
according to the lay composed in his memory, seems to ride to Valholl. 8 
Both Odinn and his son Hermdd rode on Sleipnir to the World of 
Death. 9 

Sleipnir was a grey. Apparitions portending death often appear 
mounted on greys. The good dream-woman, calling Gisli ‘home’ was 
riding a grey, 10 as was Gudrun Gjukadottir, when she came, in the 
year 1255, from the World of Death (Ndsheimr) to appear in a dream 
foretelling disaster. 11 In a later tale, 12 the impending Black Death 
appeared as a man and woman riding greys, and many stories of this 
kind have been recorded in Iceland in recent times. We may also re- 
member the helhast (death-horse), of which numerous tales have been 
told in Scandinavia. 13 Misshapen horses with varying numbers of legs 
have been widely recorded as portents of evil. 14 

We may wonder whether Odinn himself took the form of a horse, as 
he took the forms of serpents and eagles. The nicknames Hrosshdrsgrani 
(horse-hair bearded) and Jdlkr (probably ‘gelding’) may well suggest 
that this was one of the forms in which he appeared, and further 
evidence of this might be cited. 16 

Sleipnir was the swiftest of horses, galloping through the air and 
over sea. The stone of Tjangvide (Gotland), probably of the eighth 
century, shows a mounted horse, which appears to have eight legs. This 
may well be an image of Odinn riding Sleipnir, but it is no less likely that 
the eight legs were intended to give an impression of the horse’s speed. 16 
In this case, the tradition that Sleipnir, the swiftest horse, had eight 
legs may derive from pictorial representations of this kind. 

Some of the other pictorial objects found in Sweden and Gottland 
may help to show the age of Odinn’s association with the horse. A 
figured helmet-plate, found at Vendel in Swedish Uppland, shows a 
rider armed with a spear and accompanied by two birds, which could 
be ravens. This plate, probably made in the late seventh century, may 
represent Odinn riding on Sleipnir, even though the horse has only 
four legs. There are other pictures of mounted men carrying spears, 
but it would be rash to say that every one of these represents Odinn 
riding Sleipnir. 

While describing Valholl, 17 Snorri called Odinn the ‘god of ravens’ 
(hrafnagud) i and told how two ravens, Huginn and Muninn, perched 
on his shoulders, reporting all that they had seen and heard. Odinn 



sent the ravens every day over the whole world, and they returned at 

Snorri’s chief source for this latter statement was the Grimnismdl 
(str. 20), which he quotes: 

Huginn ok Muninn. 
fljuga hverjan dag 
jgrmungrund yfir ; 
oumk ek of Hugin, 
at hann aptr ne komit ; 
t ><5 sj&mk meirr um Munin. 

Huginn and Muninn 
fly every day 
over the wide earth ; 

I am afraid for Huginn 
that he will not come back ; 
but yet I fear more for Muninn. 

The names of these ravens are especially interesting. The first derives 
from hugr and the second from munr. These have been interpreted re- 
spectively as animus , cogitatio , and mens , 18 but they were perhaps too 
nearly synonymous to be sharply distinguished. The ravens, Huginn 
and Muninn, must be seen as Odinn’s spiritual qualities in concrete 
form. 19 A man’s fetch, appearing in the guise of an animal, is some- 
times called hugr 28 

Since Huginn was the name of one raven, it could, in poetic language, 
be applied to every raven, and examples of this usage are found in early 
poetry. Egill 21 called blood ‘Huginn’s sea’ ( Hugins vqrr) and another 
poet called it the raven’s drink’ ( Hugins drekka ). 22 The warrior was 
called ‘the reddener of Huginn’s claws’ ( fetrjddr Hugins ), 28 or ‘of his bill’ 
(munnrjddr Hugins) 21 A simple kenning for battle was ‘Huginn’s feast’ 
{Hugins jot ) 25 The name of Muninn is used in the same way, although 
rather less commonly. 26 

The relationship between Odinn and the raven is old and deep, as is 
shown by numerous kennings both for Odinn and for raven. Odinn is 
the ‘raven-god’ (Hrafndss) 27 the ‘raven- tempter’ ( hrafnfreistudr ) 28 and, 
more strangely, ‘the priest of the raven-sacrifice’ (hrafnbldts godi ). 29 In 
the Helga Kvida Hundingsbana II (str. 43), the ravens are ‘Odinn’s 
greedy hawks ( dtfrekir Odins haukar). In the scaldic language it was 
more usual to substitute one of Odinn’s other names, so that the raven 
was ‘Ygg’s seagull’ [Tggjar mar) 80 his ‘swan’ (Tggs svanr ), 31 or even 
his ‘cuckoo’ (Gauts gaukr ) 82 

Many have wondered what is the foundation of Odinn’s relationship 
with the raven. No single answer can be given. The raven is the bird of 
death, for he feeds on corpses. Poets called him the ‘corpse-goose’ 
{ndgagl } 88 and the ‘corpse-cuckoo’ {hreva gaukr ) 81 and by many other 
kennings which have similar meaning. 

Since the raven’s most ready prey were corpses left on the battlefield, 
denied of proper burial or cremation, he is above all the bird of battle. 



The raven haunts the battlefield, where the warrior feeds him on car- 
rion. This thought was expressed plainly by Harald Finehair’s poet, 
Thorbjorn Hornklofi, in the lay ‘Words of the Raven’ {Hrafnsmdt ) 88 
For such reasons the raven was the ‘blood-swan’ {sveita svanr ), 88 
‘blood-goose’ ( blodgagl ) 37 and the ‘wound-grouse’ (benfiidurr) 88 He was 
also the ‘osprey of the spear-storm’ {geira hridar gjddr ) 89 the ‘battle- 
swallow’ (dolgsvala) , i0 the ‘battle-crane’ ( hjaldrs Irani) 11 

Since Odinn was god of death and of war, men slaying their enemies 
in batde could see the deed as a gift to Odinn. But the fallen warrior was 
also a gift for the raven. In a poem already quoted (see p. 53 above), 
an Icelander said that he had given sacrifice to Odinn and fed a corpse 
to the raven. Among the hundreds of kennings for men and warriors 
are many which imply ‘feeder of ravens’. 42 The warrior is ‘feeder of 
battle-hawks’ {gunnvala bredir ), 43 ‘raven-feeder’ ( hrafngrennir ) 44 and ‘fat- 
r tener of the battle-starling’ ( folkstara feitir) , 46 As shown in several texts, 46 
it was a good omen for a warrior going to battle to be followed by a 
raven ; the bird could expect a feast. 

If he could predict victory, the raven could also assure it, and this 
may explain why figures of ravens were so frequently depicted on battle- 
standards. In the year 878, as is told in the Old English Chronicle 
(manuscripts BCDE), 47 King Alfred captured from the Danes in 
Devonshire a banner called Refen or Hrefn. This banner, according to 
the twelfth-century Annals of St Neots , 48 had been woven by three 
daughters of Ragnar Lodbrok in a single midday hour. If those before 
whom it was borne were to be victorious, the raven embroidered on it 
would appear flying, but otherwise it would droop. 

Again, according to the Encomium Emmae Regime , 49 a magical banner 
was borne in the battle of Ashingdon (1016) by the Danes under 
Canute. This banner was woven of white silk without image, but, in 
time of war, a raven would appear on it. He would flap his wings and 
open his bill if the owners were to be victorious, but if they were to be 
defeated he would droop. 

Yet a third raven-banner is mentioned in an English source, and 
again it belonged to a Dane. This was called Ravenlandeye, which is 
glossed as corvus terrae terror, and has been compared with the banner 
Landeyda (land-waster) of Harald Hardradi. 60 According to the Passio et 
Vita Waldeoi, of the twelfth or thirteenth century, the Ravenlandeye was 
given to Siward of Northumbria (died 1055), when he was hoping to 
fight a dragon, by a nameless old man sitting on a steep hill. The simi- 
larity between this story and that of the old man on the rock {karl af 
bergi ), 51 who gave advice to Sigurd, who was on his way to avenge his 
father, is too close to be accidental. In both stories the old man must be 



Odinn, and we may suspect that a story of the legendary Sigurd has 
been transferred to his namesake, Siward of Northumbria. 

Icelandic sources also mention a magical raven-banner. This was 
called Hrafnsmerki, and is described in the Orkneyinga Saga , 52 Por steins Saga 
Sidu-Hallssonar , 53 and in Njdls Saga. 6 * Allusion was made to it also in the 
lost Brjdns Saga . 65 The Hrafnsmerki was woven for the Orkney Earl, 
Sigurd Hlodvesson, by his mother Audna (Edna). When the wind blew, 
the raven embroidered on it would seem to flap his wings. This banner 
had the property that it always brought victory to the man before whom 
it was borne, but death to the man who bore it. It was borne before 
Sigurd in the battle of Clontarf (1014), but after he had lost three 
standard-bearers, he was obliged to carry it himself, and so lost his life. 

Ravens were not only Odinn’s intellectual attributes, his thought or 
memory ; they also came to be identified with the god himself. This is 
well illustrated by a story of Hakon the Great (died 995), 66 based partly 
on the Vellekla. Hakon had been forcibly baptized in Denmark; he 
sailed to Sweden, where he held a sacrifice. Two ravens, croaking 
loudly, flew over him, and then he knew that Odinn had accepted his 
sacrifice. The story of Floki, who sacrificed to three ravens before ex- 
ploring Iceland, 67 may also suggest that the bird was one of the forms 
taken by the god. 

Besides his ravens, Odinn kept two wolves, whose names, Geri and 
Freki mean ‘the greedy one’. Snorri 58 tells that Odinn fed his wolves 
from his own table, for he himself lived on wine alone. In this statement, 
Snorri echoes the Gnmnismdl (str. 19). 

The poets have less to tell of Odinn’s wolves than of his ravens, but 
their significance is similar. Like the raven, the wolf haunts the battle- 
field, devouring corpses. For this reason he is ‘Odinn’s dog’ ( Vidris grey) 69 
the ‘bitch of wounds’ (benja tik ), 60 and the warrior is the ‘man who red- 
dens the wolf’s teeth’ ulfs tannlitudr ) 61 and ‘dispels his hunger’ (eydir ulfa 
grddar) . 62 

In Norse tradition, as in that of many other peoples, 63 the wolf, and 
sometimes the dog, are the most cruel demons of death and destruc- 
tion. Such beliefs could well arise independently among peoples who 
had experience of wolves. The most vicious of all wolves described in 
Norse sources is Fenrir, the chained wolf, who lies ready to spring on 
the dwellings of gods and men, destroying all before him, 64 and in the 
Ragnarok is destined to devour Odinn himself. 66 Fenrir is the child of 
Loki and the giantess Angrboda (Presager of Evil), and he is thus a 
brother of the World Serpent and of the death-goddess, Hel, 66 Two 
other wolves pursue the sun and the moon and, it is said, are destined 
to swallow them. 67 


Since the wolf is a beast of death and of war, Odinn probably ap- 
peared in this guise, representing his most evil and sinister aspect. 

From the foregoing pages it appears that Odinn might take the 
form of a serpent, a raven, an eagle, a horse and a wolf. He probably 
assumed other forms besides these. According to the Tnglinga Saga 
(Ch. VII), Odinn had power to change his shape; his body would lie 
as if asleep or dead and, in the twinkling of an eye, he would be away 
in a distant land. 

It is hard to know how far the myths about Odinn’s shape-changing 
reflect cult-practices, and how far such practices reflect myth. 68 It is 
easy to believe that in ritual drama, Odinn would appear as a horse, 
wolf, or even as a bird. But unless we suppose that anthropomorphic 
gods developed from those in animal form, we can hardly doubt that 
such cults derived from myth. 

Odinn’s assumption of wolf-shape may lead us to think of were- 
wolves, about which legends are preserved over so great a part of 
Europe. In fact, the man who put on a wolf-skin probably felt himself 
a wolf, and a berserk, clothed in a bear-skin, thought he was a bear. 
Berserks were sometimes called ulfhednar (wolf-skinned), 69 and they 
howled like wolves. 

The Volsungar, Sigmund and Sinfjdtli, typical Odinn-heroes, lived 
in the forest as wolves. 70 A bronze plate found at Torslunda (Oland, 
Sweden), and probably dating from the sixth century, shows a figure with 
a wolf’s head, skin and tail, but human feet. The figure carries a spear. 71 

O. Hofler, 72 among many valuable observations, quotes a remarkable 
passage from the work of the Swedish scholar, Olaus Magnus, pub- 
lished in 1 555. 73 Men of that time, both in Scandinavia and in neigh- 
bouring lands, used to turn into wolves, especially on Christmas Eve. 
They would roam and plunder in bands, and do far more damage than 
ordinary wolves, even breaking into beer-cellars. They could assume 
or throw off the wolf-shape at will, and were a presage of death. 

The wolves here described are not associated with Odinn, but Odinn 
lived in popular tradition more vigorously than any other pagan god. 
He led the wild hunt, the troop of the dead, with their horses and dogs. 
They were active, especially at the Christmas season. 74 

Odinn was the god of Yule ( Jol ), and one of the older scalds called 
him Jolnir , 75 while an early historian said, perversely, that Jol (Yule) 
was named after Jolnir, another name for Odinn. 76 

Odinn’ s names 

Snorri, 1 quoting the Grimnismdl (strs. 46-50), gives a long list of names 
for Odinn. Gangleri observes that it would take deep learning to 




explain the events which gave rise to all of these names, but Har answers 
that the chief reason why they are so many is that so many different 
peoples wished to invoke Odinn, each in their own language. The 
remarks ascribed to Gangleri and Har both contain elements of truth, 
and there are various reasons why Odinn should be called by about 170 
names, besides numerous kennings, some of which might almost be 
regarded as names. 2 

Some of 0 Sinn’s names reflect his practices or incidents in his career. 
To this class belong Bqlverkr (Evil-doer), Gangrddr, Vegtamr (Road- 
practised), Hangagud (God of the Hanged), Hangi (Hanged), Sigfabir 
(Father of Victory) . 

Examples have already been given of names for Cdinn which have to 
do with the animal shapes which he took. To this class belong Amhqfdi 
(Eagle-headed), and perhaps Bjarki, Bjqrn (Bear). 

Whether in cult or myth, Odinn also appeared in many human 
guises. He is Grimnir (Masked), Blindr (Blind), Tmblindi (Double-blind) 
and, at the same time, Bdleygr (Fire-eyed). Odinn appears commonly 
with one eye, and this may be implied in his nickname Hdrr, said to 
derive from *Haiha~hariR (the One-eyed Hero) and to be related to 
Gothic haihs (one-eyed) and ultimately to Latin caecus. s 

Chinn is an old man, and so he is called ,Karl; he is tall and called 
Hdvi ; he has a long, grey beard and is, therefore Sidskeggr (Long-, 
broad-bearded) and Hdrbardr (Grey-bearded). He wears a broad hat, 
and so he is SidhQttr (Broad hat), or simply Hgttr. 

Odinn, as already explained, had a number of favourite heroes. Some 
of these were perhaps conceived as the god on earth, and their names 
could be applied to him ; he is Sigmundr and Gizurr (see God of War, 

Chinn bore yet other names which suggest that his cult was extend- 
ing in the Viking Age and before, and that many peoples were coming 
to regard him as the highest of the gods. He is called Gautr, which may 
originally have been the name of the eponymous father of the Gautar 
(people of Gautland), and hence of the Goths. 4 He is also called Skilfingr, 
and this was perhaps the name of the first ancestor of the Tnglingar, the 
kings of the Swedes who, in Beowulf, are called Scylfingas. 

Cdinn took over the names and functions of other gods. He is often 
called Fjqlnir , but Fjglnir who, in the Tnglinga Saga (Ch. X) is called the 
son of Freyr, must originally have been a fertility-god, hardly distinct 
from Freyr himself. B Odinn is, in one text, called Jqrmunr. If the reading 
is correct, it probably implies that he has usurped the place of another 
god, identical with the Irmin of the Saxons and the ancestor of the 
Erminiones , the great Germanic tribe. 6 



Some of Odinn’s names are even more puzzling. He is called Njotr, a 
name which might be borrowed from that of the Saxons and Anglo- 
Saxons, Sahsnot, Saxneat .’ 7 

This perhaps implies that, by those who considered Odinn the highest 
of the gods, the chief god or eponymous father of other peoples came to 
be identified with Cdinn. It is also possible that various peoples whose 
chief god was originally other than Cdinn had come to believe that he 
was the same. Such suggestions may be supported by two other names. 
Cdinn is called Svdfnir, which is also the name of one of the serpents 
gnawing the roots of the World Tree, Yggdrasill. 8 It could well mean 
‘the one who puts to sleep, kills’, but when we read of a Svdfnir, King 
of Svdfaland, 9 we may wonder whether Cdinn was not identified with 
the eponymous father of the Suebi. 10 Cdinn was also called Langbardr, 
which means ‘Long-bearded’, but may also be influenced by the tribal 
name of the Lombards. 11 

Odinn's Eye 

Thorbjorn Hornklofi in his ‘Words of the Raven’ referred to Cdinn as 
‘the one-eyed consort of Frigg’ (enum eineygja Friggjar faSmbyggvi ), 1 
showing that the myth of the one-eyed god was well known and com- 
paratively old. The Vqluspd (str. 28) also contains an allusion to the loss 
of one of Cdinn’s eyes. The sibyl, as if to prove her wisdom, tells Cdinn 
that she knows well enough where he hid (fait) his eye ; it was in the 
glorious Well of Mimir. 2 This well, according to Snorri, 3 stood be- 
neath one of the roots of the tree Yggdrasill, and all wisdom was stored 
in it. Snorri goes on to say how Cdinn’s eye came to be there. The god 
had begged for one draught from the well, but it was not granted until 
he placed his eye as a pledge. 

This story may be an attempt to rationalize the myth but, whatever 
its age, it is not difficult to understand. Cdinn’s sight was his most 
precious possession, and for this reason he must sacrifice a part of it. In 
the same way, Tyr must sacrifice his arm before the wolf Fenrir could 
be bound 4 and, as some believe, Heimdall, whose hearing was the 
keenest, sacrificed one of his ears. 5 

Several tales are told of Cdinn’s remarkable vision. It is told in the 
prose introduction to the Grimnismdl how Cdinn and his wife, Frigg, 
were sitting in Hlidskjdlf looking over all the worlds. Snorri 6 has more 
to tell of HUdskjalf, evidently thinking of it as a kind of throne (hdsati) 
in Asgard. When Cdinn sat there, he could see everything, and even 
saw where the fugitive Loki had hidden after the death of Baldr. Scalds 
must also allude to a myth of this kind when they call Cdinn Hlidskjdlf ar 
karri, gramr (lord, prince of Hiidsjalf). 7 



The name Hlidskjdlf is of some interest. Its second element, skjdlf 
(■ skjalf ) has been interpreted as ‘a steep slope’, ‘a cutting off of a high 
plateau’, 8 while usages of the corresponding scelf, scylf in Old English 
might suggest a meaning such as ‘crag, rock’, ‘turret, pinnacle’. 9 

The first element in the name, hlid -, most probably means ‘opening, 
gap’. The whole may then mean approximately ‘the hill, rock with an 
opening in it’. Perhaps the god looked through this opening over all the 
worlds. 10 

But why should the place where Odinn sits be called a skjdlf ? An 
interesting, if speculative explanation was offered by M. Olsen. 11 He 
noticed that, in the Grimnismdl (str. 6) , a Valaskjdlf was mentioned ; it 
was built in days of old and roofed with silver. We could suppose that 
this was the home of Odinn’s son, Vali, who was born to avenge Baldr 
(see Gh. IV below). 12 It is still more interesting, as Olsen points out, 
that the place-name Valaskjdlf ( Valaskioll ) was found in south-eastern 
Norway, and in the same region there was probably a Vidarskjalf 
( Viskjol ). 

Vidar was another son of Odinn, and he was ‘the silent god’ (him 
pQgli dss ), 13 whose function was to avenge his father on the wolf Fenrir 
in the Ragnarok. 14 

The place-names, as Olsen suggests, may derive from myth and 
ritual. Odinn and his two avenging sons, Vali and Vidar, seem to sit, 
reside in a skjdlf. Odinn was called Skilfingr and his sons might be *Skil- 
fingar, which formally could mean ‘men of the skjdlf \ and thus be equi- 
valent to the name Scylfingas, given in Beowulf to the royal dynasty of the 
Swedes. 15 This, it is now generally believed, derived from one of the 
place-names in skjdlf (skdlf) of which a number are found in Swedish 
Uppland. 16 Since Odinn was king of the gods, he and his sons might be 
expected to have a skjdlf as well. 

Alternatively, the names Hlidskjdlf Vdlaskjdlf and Skilfingr might im- 
ply little more than that Odinn and his sons were lords of the rock. 

The Cult of Odinn 

Odinn has already been seen as a complicated figure. He descended on 
the one side from giants and on the other from the primeval Buri. He 
was of great age ( aldinn ) and had immense wisdom. He played a part 
in the creation of men, giving them qnd (breath, life, spirit), and brought 
other gifts, both to men and to gods, among them poetry and runes. 

Odinn was also master of magic ( galdr ) and was called galdrsfadir 
(father of magic). Chanting his corpse-charms he called the dead from 
their graves, wrenching their secret wisdom. 1 He had learnt nine 
mighty magic songs from the son of the giant Bolthor, and he mastered 



eighteen spells, known neither to man nor woman. 2 With these he could 
blunt swords, turn a javelin in flight, quell fire and calm the sea; he 
could carve such runes that a gallow’s bird would walk and talk to him. 

It was also said that Odinn could blind, deafen and strike panic into 
his enemies, making their weapons as blunt as sticks. He could inspire 
the berserk rage, and his own men, invulnerable to steel, would fight 
without corselets, savage as wolves and strong as bulls. 8 

Odinn was master, not only of the kind of magic called galdr, but also 
of a baser kind known as seidrj which had first been taught to the 
iEsir by the goddess Freyja. By means of it, Odinn could see into the 
future, cause death, misfortune and sickness, and deprive men of their 
wits. This form of magic was accompanied by such depraved practices 
(ergi) 5 that it was held to be dishonourable for the male sex, and 
generally reserved for the goddesses. 6 It is even implied that Odinn 
changed his sex, as he often changed his form. 7 

Odinn is god of war and dissension, delighting not least in fratricidal 
strife. He is lord of the slain ( Valfqdr ) and of the dead (drauga drottinn) . 
He is presented as the lord of gods and men, and no god is described in 
closer detail in the literary sources. These sources were largely the work 
of Icelanders and, with few exceptions, were preserved in Iceland alone. 
It is, therefore, surprising that medieval authors rarely allude to the 
worship of Odinn in Iceland itself, richly as they describe it in other 

It has been argued from such negative evidence that the cult of Odinn 
had scarcely reached Iceland by the end of the Heathen Age. 8 This 
difficult problem may be approached by various ways. 

Place-names and personal names often preserve memories of heathen 
cult. While Iceland has many place-names compounded with Por- 
(Thor-) 9 and some compounded with the names of Njord and Freyr, it 
has none compounded with Odinn’s name. The same must be said of 
names for men and women, for while there are a great many which 
have P6r~ as their first element, and some whose first element is Frey-, 
none begin with Odinn’s name. Some personal names which are really 
names of animals suggest that Odinn was worshipped by those who 
bore them, or by their ancestors. Not a few Icelanders were called 
Hrafn (Raven), tJlfr (Wolf), and by names compounded with these 
elements. Although the raven and the wolf were associated with Odinn, 
it would be rash to say that men called by such names came of families 
which had Odinn for their favourite god. It is told of Hrafnkell, the son 
of Hrafn, that he was ‘priest of Freyr’ (Freysgodi) , 10 

If Odinn enjoyed comparatively little worship in Iceland, we may 
wonder how r the Icelandic authors came to know so many myths about 



him. A partial answer has already been given ; Odinn was the god of 
poetry, and our records of Odinn derive chiefly from poets, whether 
directly or indirectly. 

Place-names and personal names on the mainland of Scandinavia 
may tell something about the cult of Odinn. A casual glance at sketch- 
maps marking place-names compounded with Odin- shows that these 
are fairly common in Denmark 11 and southern Sweden, especially in 
east and west Gautland. But when we turn to Norway, the picture 
changes. M. Olsen, 12 the chief living expert on theophoric place-names 
in that country, counts no more than twelve which contain the element 
Odin -, while 33 appear to preserve the name Ullr, 27 have the element 
Por-, 26 JVjgrd- (Jfjard-), and about 48 the names of the god and goddess 
Freyr and Freyja. 

The Norwegian Odin- names are most numerous in the south-east. 
There are perhaps four in Trondelag, one in Sogn and one in Fjordane 
but, as far as is known, none in south-western Norway. In other words, 
this region, in which a great proportion of her settlers originated, pro- 
vides the same picture as Iceland herself. 

The distribution of Odin- names has been explained variously. Many 
have seen in it evidence that Odinn was not indigenous to Scandinavia, 
and that his cult had spread from the south. According to some, this 
cult reached the north c, 200-400 ad , and others have given it a later 
date, while some have believed that Odinn was little known in Scan- 
dinavia before the Viking Age. 13 

It may be questioned whether it would be right to draw such far- 
reaching conclusions from the absence of personal names and the 
rarity of place-names compounded with Odin- in the western districts. 

It was seen that a small group of place-names containing this ele- 
ment has been identified in Trondelag. One of these, Onsdien , was re- 
corded earlier as Odinsyn , said to be from Odinsvin (Odinn’s meadow), 14 
and -vin, denoting a sacred meadow, or place of worship is said, as a 
place-name element, to belong to a very early period, even to the 
Bronze Age. 16 

It must, however, be admitted that an isolated place-name can tell 
little. It could be transferred from one place to another, as the names 
Uppsalir and Sigtunir , applied to two neighbouring farms in the Ice- 
landic Eyjafjordur, were probably influenced by those of the two 
glorious cities of Sweden. 18 

While there is no compelling evidence that the cult of Odinn was 
practised widely in the west before the Viking Age, there are reasons to 
believe that it spread and developed during that age. 

Historical sources may throw some light. It is plain that Norway 



suffered a social revolution in the ninth and tenth centuries. It was in 
this period that Harald Finehair unified Norway, making it a single 
kingdom. His achievement was not altogether lasting, for we read as 
late as the twelfth century of petty kings and of a divided No.rway. 

Harald’s work was continued for a few years by his favourite son, 
Eirik Bloodaxe, until he was driven from Norway. 

We may wonder what kind of a social system Harald introduced, and 
what were the results of his work. He was judged varyingly by medieval 
historians. According to the Fagrskinna , 17 compiled in Norway early in 
the thirteenth century, he brought peace and good government ( fridadi 
ok sidadi). But the settlers of Iceland saw Harald in a different light. He 
put down rebellious spirits without mercy; he took to himself all the 
hereditary estates (odul), and all the land, inhabited or not, even the' sea 
and the lakes, and all farmers were obliged to be his tenants. 18 

This tyrannical rule, according to Icelandic sources, drove many 
from their homes, and was the reason for the settlement of Iceland. If 
there were, in fact, other reasons, this was certainly a major one. 

It has been said already that few of the settlers appear to have 
venerated Odinn. They were a conservative people, who emigrated 
largely to preserve their traditional way of fife, rule by farmers of 
leading families, independent of kings and central government. 19 Their 
social units and loyalties were based upon blood-relationship. 

These settlers were mostly men of western, and particularly of south- 
western Norway. 20 They venerated Thor, Njord and Freyr, but seem to 
pay little heed to Odinn. There is, however, much to suggest that 
Harald was Odinn’s man. In the Haraldskvadi (Words of the Raven), 
one of the oldest poems about Harald, Thorbjorn Hornklofi tells how 
the raven followed the young king, hungry for the corpses which he left 
on the battlefield. These corpses were dedicated to Frigg’s one-eyed 
husband (see previous section) . 

We cannot overlook a strange story preserved in the Flateyjarbok 21 of 
the fourteenth century, which appears to have ancient origins. This 
story is not altogether clear, but it seems that, in his childhood, Harald 
had been the guest of Odinn. 

Three years before his death, Harald conducted his son Eirik to the 
high seat, proclaiming him sovereign over the whole land. If there 
should be any doubts about Harald’s allegiance to Odinn, there can 
be none about Eirik’s. In his contempt for the bonds of kindred and his 
unscrupulous slaughter of his brothers, he showed himself a typical 
Odinn hero. It was said that he was baptized in England a few years 
before his death but, in the end, Odinn accorded him a splendid wel- 
come in Valholl. 22 



A contemporary poet called Harald ‘the young Yngling’ ( ungum 
Tnglingi) 23 and ThjoSoIf Hvin traced his descent, or rather that of 
his cousin, Rognvald, through doubtful stages to the famous house of 
the Ynglingar, kings of the Swedes. Eirik Bloodaxe was also called 
‘son of the Yngling’ ( Tnglings burr). 2 * 

Whether or not Harald’s family descended from the Ynglingar, and 
thus from the gods, it seems clear that the centre of their power was 
Vestfold, in the neighbourhood of the Vik. This was the region most 
strongly influenced by Danes and Jutes, who repeatedly claimed over- 
lordship. 25 It was also in this part of Norway that the place-names con- 
taining the element Odin- were most common, and some of them, such 
as Odinsakr ( 0 Sinn’s cornfield), of which there are several examples, 
were probably age-old. 26 

Although Harald’s family claimed to descend from the Swedish 
dynasty, some of them bore names resembling those of Danish princes. 
The name Harald was itself common among them, as was Hdlfdan 
(Half-Dane?), the name of Harald’s father. Harald Finehair had more 
to do with Danes than with Swedes. His favourite wife, the mother of 
Eirik Bloodaxe, was daughter of a king of Jutland and, as Hornklofi 
said, he rejected Norwegian women in her favour. 27 Eirik, in his turn, 
married the Danish princess, daughter of King Gorm. 28 

If we see Harald and Eirik as followers of OQinn, we can better 
understand one side of O 0 inn’s character. His is not the cult of land- 
owners, the hereditary aristocracy bound by ties of blood. It is the cult 
of landless men and those without family ties, of men like Starkad 29 
and soldiers of fortune, even of berserks, who join the king’s court in 
hope of gain. 

We may wonder whether the social system, which Harald was said 
to favour, had affinities with any practised in other lands. It closely 
resembles a system which, according to Caesar, 30 was practised among 
Germans of his day. 

They had little interest in agriculture, living chiefly on meat and 
milk. No one was allowed to own land, but the land was parcelled out 
every year by the chieftains among tribes and families. At the end of 
the year they must move elsewhere. 

Caesar was probably describing tribes in western Germany, or- 
ganized for war. Their system was not, in our sense, an aristocratic one ; 
it left no room for hereditary landowners or established families, but 
placed all power in the hands of military chiefs. It is the antithesis of the 
system based on family units which the settlers introduced into Iceland, 
but yet it has close affinities with the social system described in Beowulf, 
as prevailing among the Geatas (Gautar) and especially the Danes. 



This may partly explain the rarity of the cult of Odinn in Iceland 
and the strange distribution of place-names containing the element 
Odin-, which should be considered more closely. It was seen that they 
are rare in a great part of Scandinavia, but common in Denmark and 
Gautland, extending sporadically into south-eastern Norway and 
Swedish Uppland. Some of them denote places of public worship and 
temples of various forms and ages. Among these may be counted 
Odinsve, which is fairly widespread in Jutland and eastern Sweden, 31 
Odinshqrgr (-hargher) in Swedish Uppland, 32 Odinssalr (Trondeiag, S.E. 
Norway and S.W. Sweden), Odinshof (S.E. Norway). Others, such as 
Odinsakr (chiefly Gautland and S.E. Norway) and Odinsvin , suggest 
that, for some, OSinn was partly a fertility god. Odinslundr, of which 
there are several examples in Sweden, may show that, like several other 
gods, Odinn was worshipped in sacred groves. The name Odinsberg, 
fairly widespread in Sweden and Denmark, 33 leads us again to think of 
OSinn as the Karl afbergi 34 (Man of the rock). 

It could be said that the name OSinn was purposely avoided in 
some districts because the god was revered so deeply as to be unmen- 
tionable. But there is a more natural explanation. If those of the wes- 
tern districts knew Oclinn, they had neither respect for him as a god nor 
love for all he stood for. 

I have suggested that the cult of OSinn spread widely and rapidly 
in the ninth and tenth centuries. This may be illustrated from the careers 
of certain Icelanders. S. Nordal 35 made some especially interesting 
observations on the religious life of Egill Skalla-Grimsson (died c. 990 ). 
Egill had grown up, the son of an industrious farmer, in the worship of 
Thor. When he left Iceland at the age of seventeen, Egill came into 
touch with the cult of Odinn, associating with princes and living as a 
viking and a poet. Another Icelandic poet, although a lesser one, has 
been seen as a ‘convert’ to the cult of OSinn. 36 This was Viga-GIum 
(died c. 1003). Like Egill, Glum grew up on a farm. Beside this farm, at 
Thvera in northern Iceland stood the temple of Freyr, and close by the 
ever-fertile cornfield Vitazgjqfi (the Certain Giver), 37 probably under 
the protection of the god. On his father’s side. Glum came of a family 
evidently devoted to Freyr but, as a young man, he visited his mother’s 
father, the old viking, Vigfuss of Vors in Norway, and proved his 
prowess before him. As he left, Vigfuss gave his grandson a cloak, 
sword and spear, saying that he would maintain his authority so long 
as he kept them. When Vigfuss died, his guardian spirit ( hamingja }, 
seen in a dream as a gigantic woman, came to Iceland and joined 
Glum. The spear, as already seen, was OSinn’s favourite weapon, the 
cloak his favourite garb. 




Throughout his adult career Glum was on bad terms with the god 
Freyr. To begin with, he slew an enemy on the cornfield, Vitazgjafi, 
and thus defiled it. The father of this man had no legal case, and was 
expelled from the district. But before he left, he brought an ox to Freyr’s 
temple. The beast bellowed and fell dead, showing that the god had 
accepted the sacrifice and would repay it. 

Glum’s relations with Freyr grew worse as time wore on. He con- 
cealed his outlaw son, Vigfuss, within the sacred precincts of the 
temple. He emulated Odinn in swearing an ambiguous oath in three 
temples, one of which was the temple of Freyr. Afterwards he had a 
strange dream. He saw Freyr sitting on a chair on the bank of the river, 
where many had come to visit him. These were his dead kinsmen, who 
had come to intercede with the god on his behalf. But Freyr answered 
abruptly and angrily, remembering the ox which Glum’s enemy had 
given him. 

Freyr, as it seems, could do little harm to Glum, so long as he kept 
the cloak and spear given to him by his viking grandfather. But after 
swearing the ambiguous oath, he gave them away. He could no longer 
withstand his enemies, and was driven from his lands in disgrace. 

Woden- Wotan 

It is not easy to describe Woden (Odinn) as continental and English 
heathens saw him, but it is plain that, in the eyes of the English, he had 
some of the characteristics so vividly described in the Norse sources. 

Woden appears as the god of chieftains, and thus the highest god. 
Hengist and Horsa, the legendary founders of the English nation, were 
said to descend from him and, as Bede said, 1 many, indeed nearly all of 
the provincial kings traced their descent from Woden. 2 In certain royal 
genealogies, Woden appears with a son Basldaeg, whom some identify 
with Baldr. 3 Woden himself is said to descend from Geat (Geata), whose 
name corresponds with Gautr, applied in Norse literary sources to 
OSinn. 4 

As the ancestor of princes, Woden was worshipped as a god and, 
according to the tenth-century chronicler ^Ethelweard, 5 sacrifice was 
brought to him for victory and bravery. 

In England, as in Scandinavia, Woden was master of magic, as is 
illustrated by the so-called Nine Herbs Charm against poison. In the text 
and translation of G. Storms 6 this reads : 

Wyrm com snican, toslat he nan. 

Pa genam Woden VIIII wuldortanas, 
sloh 5a |>a nseddran Jwet heo on VIIII tofleah. 


A worm came crawling, it killed nothing. 

For Woden took nine glory-twigs, 

he smote then the adder that it flew apart in nine parts. 

The nine wuldortanas could well imply rune-staves, or staves with 
runes cut on them. 7 The repetition of the number nine may also be sig- 
nificant. After hanging for nine nights on the tree, Odinn learned nine 
magic songs, and he boasted, in the Hdvamdl, that he mastered eighteen 

It is possible that the English heathens had regarded Woden as the 
discoverer of runes but, if so, memories of this had faded by the time 
the records were written. In England, as elsewhere, Woden was com- 
monly identified with Mercury, and in the prose fragment Salomon and 
Saturn, 8 Mercury the giant ( Mercurius se gygand) is said to be the founder 
of letters. 

Again in the Old English Runic Poem it is said of the rune Os : 

Os byh ordfruma aelcre spraece . . . 

Os (?) is the source of all language . . . 

It would be natural to suppose that the name Os was Latin, and 
meant ‘mouth’, as it may well have done for the man who gave the 
poem its present shape, But the corresponding lines of the late Ice- 
landic Runic Poem 10 read : 

Css er aldinn Gautr Css is the ancient Gautr, 

ok AsgarSs jgfurr, prince of Asgar5, 

ok valhallar visi. lord of Valholl. 

In the latter case, 6ss was equivalent to dss (god), and designated 

Memories of Woden’s cult are also preserved in some English place- 
names. If not many, these names are comparatively widespread. 1 ! 
Among them may be mentioned Wodnes beorh (Woden’s barrow), 
probably applied to a burial mound in Wiltshire, later called Adam’s 
Grave. 12 The half-hundred name Wenslow, in Bedfordshire, is re- 
corded earlier as Wodenslawe (1169) and as Weneslai (1086), 13 and de- 
rives ultimately from * Wodnes hlcew, also meaning ‘Woden’s barrow’. 
These names, corresponding with the Scandinavian *6dinsberg and 
*6dinskaugr, Xi suggest that Woden was seen as god of the dead. The 
name Wednesfield (Staffs) is recorded earlier as Wodnesfeld , 16 and might 
be compared with *6dinsakr, whereas Wensley (Derbyshire, older 
Wodnesleie) is reminiscent of the Swedish * Odinslundr . The name of 



Woden is also preserved in Wansdyke ( Wodnes die, 903) 16 and Wodnes- 
dene (939). Odinn’s nickname, Grimr (masked), is also supposed to be 
present in Grim’s Ditch or Dyke. 17 

Under influence of the invaders, the English homilists commonly 
used the Norse form Odinn ( O 8 on , etc.) instead of the English Woden . 18 
This usage shows how vigorously the traditions of OQinn lived among 
the invaders, but tells little about his place in English heathendom. 

In short, the English records suggest that, among the pagan English, 
Woden had filled a place similar to that which he filled in Scandinavia 
as late as the tenth century. This implies that already the north German 
ancestors of the English, Saxones , Angli and Iutae, has seen him in a 
similar light ; he was god of princes, victory, death and magic, perhaps 
also of runes, speech, poetry. It is not insignificant that the English 
came chiefly from north Germany and Denmark, where the cult of 
Odinn seems to be old and particularly firmly established. 

Poor as the records are, it is evident that Woden (Wotan) was wor- 
shipped widely in continental Germany. He is named in the second 
place, between Thunaer and Saxnot, in the Saxon baptismal vow, 19 
probably of the late eighth century. He is also named, together with 
other gods on the Nordendorf clasp of about ad 6oo. 20 

A remarkable tale of Wotan was told in the Origo gentis Langobardorum 
of the seventh century and again by Paulus Diaconus (died c. 795) in 
his Historia Langobardorum (1,7-8), whose version will be followed here. 

The Lombards, then called Winnili , were said to have come from 
Scandinavia under the leadership of two brothers, Ibor and Aio (Agio). 
When the Vandals demanded tribute of them, they were persuaded by 
their mother, Gambara, to take up arms. 

Before joining battle, the Vandals called on Godan (Wotan) to 
award them victory, but he said that he would give victory to those 
whom he saw first at sunrise. Gambara, in her turn, invoked Frea 
(Frigg), the wife of Godan. She commanded that the Winnil women 
should spread their hair over their faces in the shape of beards. They 
should assemble with their men in view of a window, from which 
Wotan used to look at the rising sun. When he saw them, the god ex- 
claimed : ‘qui sunt isti longibarbi ?’ Having given the Lombards their 
name, the god must add a gift, and the gift was victory. Godan, 
according to Paulus, was only another name for Wotan, formed by add- 
ing one letter, and perhaps implying that there was a form *Gwotan. 
Wotan, Paulus adds, was worshipped by all Germanic peoples, and the 
Romans called him Mercury. 

This ridiculosa fabula, as Paulus calls it, is interesting in many ways. 21 
Wotan looking down on the earth through a window (per fenestram ) 



recalls Odinn, sometimes accompanied by his wife, Frigg, gazing over 
all the worlds from HliQskjalf. In the Lombard tale, Wotan is seen 
already to be married to Frea (i.e. Frigg), and he dispenses victory, as 
he does in the Norse sources. 

The god Wotan (Wuoden) is also named in the Second Merseburg 
Charm, together with other gods and goddesses, as the one whose magic 
heals sprains. 22 

It was seen that Paulus identified Woden with Mercury, and this 
was a commonplace in the Germanic world. It was expressed in the 
name for the week-day. Dies Mercurii, called in Old English Wodnesdag , 
in Old High German Wuotanestac and in Old Norse Odinsdagr . 

In a number of votive inscriptions of the second and third centuries, 
found chiefly in western and Lower Germany, a Mercurius is named, 
and various nicknames are given to him. 23 It is probable that some of 
these are dedicated to Wotan, but the chief god of the neighbouring 
Celts was, according to Czesar, 24 also called Mercurius. It is therefore 
difficult to know whether the inscriptions are dedicated to a Germanic 
or Celtic Mercurius. 

Looking further back into antiquity, we find that already Tacitus 
(Germania IX) named Mercury as foremost of Germanic gods, but it 
does not follow that Mercurius was the only Latin name given to Wotan- 
CSinn. Adam of Bremen identified him with Mars. The Goths used to 
sacrifice their prisoners to a god whom Jordanes 25 called Mars, hang- 
ing captured war-gear on trees. The Mars of the Goths may well have 
been Wotan. 

Writing of the Semnones, said to be the noblest of the Suebi, Tacitus 
(Germania XXXIX) remarked that at a given time they would assemble 
in a sacred forest. A man was slaughtered and gruesome rites per- 
formed. The participants believed that in this forest their tribe had its 
origin, and it was so holy that none might enter it unless bound with a 
chain. If he were to fall, he must not get up, but roll himself out. This 
forest was the abode of the regnator omnium deus. 

Many have identified the regnator with Tyr, but it is more probable 
that this terrifying god was Wotan, or Mercury. According to an earlier 
passage in the Germania (IX), Mercury'received human sacrifice, whereas 
other gods, Hercules and Mars (Th6r and Tyr) were placated with 

There is another reason to identify the regnator omnium deus with 
Wotan. It was mentioned that no one might enter the sacred forest 
unless bound with a chain. A prose passage in the Helga kvida Handings- 
banall (str. 24, cf str. 30) was quoted above. It tells how Dag, wishing 
to take vengeance on his brother-in-law, Helgi, sacrificed to OSinn, 



who lent him his spear. Dag met Helgi in or by Fjgturlundr (Fetter- 
grove), and there killed him with the spear. 

Many have seen Dag’s act as a sacrifice to OSinn , 26 and have associated 
the Helgi cycle of legends particularly with the Suebi and Semnones. 
Evidence of this association has been seen in the name of the heroine 
Svdva and in Svdvaland, said to be related to Suebi. The place-name Sefa - 
fjgll, found in the Helga kvida Hundingsbana II, is also associated by some 
with the tribal name Semnones. 27 

However that may be, 05inn claimed in the Hdvamdl (str. 149 ) that 
he was the master of fetters ; he could also make his enemies impotent 
in battle, so that they were struck blind and deaf, and their weapons 
cut no more than sticks . 28 It is not extravagant to suppose that Odinn 
could also inflict the herfjqturr (battle-fetter), a kind of panic which 
struck men in battle and made them powerless . 29 




Thor and the Serpent — Thor and the Giants — Thor’s Hammer and his Goats — 
The worship of Thor — Thor in the Viking Colonies ■ — Thor-Thunor — Conclusion 

In the eyes of many Norsemen, particularly in western regions, Thor, 
the thunderer, was the noblest and most powerful of gods, and he seems 
to grow in stature as the Heathen Age comes to its close. 

Thor lived in Thrudheim (the World of Might) or Thrudvangar 
(Fields of Might), where his house, Bilskirnir, was as splendid as Val- 
holl. Every day, Thor waded rivers to sit in judgment beneath the 
World Tree, Yggdrasill . 1 He maintained the order of the universe, 
defending our world (Mi6gar5 ) 2 and the world of gods (Asgard ). 3 His 
weapon was the hammer, Mjollnir, with which he held the forces of 
chaos in check. These forces were represented chiefly by giants and 
giantesses, dwelling in Jotunheimar, in the east. 

Before considering Thor’s place in the divine hierarchy and in the 
minds of his worshippers, we may recall some of the myths in which 
he figures, obscure as they may be. 

Thor and the Serpent 

The most formidable of Thor’s enemies was the serpent, MibgarSsorm 
or Jormungand, who lay coiled around the earth . 4 Thor’s struggle against 
this symbol of evil provided motives, not only for poets, but also for 
pictorial artists. It is believed to be represented on carved stones of the 
eleventh century, found at Altuna in Sweden and Gosforth in Cum- 
berland . 5 In his Ragnarsdrapa , the ninth-century scald, Bragi , 6 inspired 
by a picture painted on a shield, described Thor’s battle with the 
serpent. The god was seen pitting his strength against the monster out 
at sea. Accompanied by a giant, the god had cast his line, and the 
‘hideous thong of the sea’ was hooked, glaring from the deep at the 
enemy of giants. Thor would have crashed his hammer on the ser- 
pent’s skull, had not his giant companion taken fright and cut the line. 

In pagan times there was another version of this myth of Th 6 r and 



the serpent and, according to it, the god killed his enemy. This version 
underlies the work of tllf Uggason 7 who, in the late tenth century, 
described a pictorial panel in a house in Iceland (see Ch. I, second sec- 
tion) : Thor was seen striking off the serpent’s head on the waves. The 
Hymiskvida (22-4), one of the later poems of the Edda , 8 drew on this 
same version of the story, but the text is defective. It is also told in the 
Hymiskvida that Thor baited his hook with the head of an ox. This detail, 
repeated by Snorri, seems also to be represented on the Gosforth slab. 

Snorri 9 retold the story of Thor and the serpent at length. As he, or 
rather his speaker (Hdrr) believed, the god had failed to destroy the 
serpent, who still lives in the encircling sea. Although this version agrees 
with Bragi’s Ragnarsdrdpa, which Snorri knew well, we may suppose 
that in the original myth, Thor had conquered his enemy. Gods and 
heroes who did battle with such monsters generally overcame them, as 
did Indra, Marduk, Sigurd, Finn. Dualistic conceptions, creeping into 
Norse heathendom from Christian and near-eastern eschatology, per- 
haps demanded that the symbol of evil should survive until the Rag- 

In the Ragnarok, according to Snorri, 10 Thor and the serpent will 
kill each other. Snorri seems here to be following cryptic lines of the 
Vqluspd (56), which he probably interprets correctly. This story of the 
primeval serpent may be influenced by those of Leviathan and the old 
dragon of Revelation (20), who shall be loosed at the end of the world. 

Thor and the giants 

Giants and giantesses were Thor’s natural enemies. If all of them had 
escaped the force of his hammer, there would be no life left in this 
world, and Asgard would be peopled by giants. 1 The poets Vetrlidi 2 and 
Thorbjorn Disarskald 3 gave lists of giants and giantesses whom Thor 
had destroyed. Numerous kennings, which poets used to denote Thor, 
contained allusion to his enmity with giants and his victories over them. 4 
It was a standard motive for poets and medieval writers that Thor was 
away in the east, fighting the giants. 

Among the giant enemies of Th6r, two were particularly vehement, 
Hrungnir and Geirrod. A picture representing the god’s battle with 
Hrungnir was painted on a shield. This shield was given to ThjoSolf of 
Hvin, who described the scene magnificently, though obscurely, in his 
poem Haustlgng (see Ch. I, Old Norse Poetry). 

The god was seen on his way to the giant world ; his temper rose and 
the sky ( mdnavegr , ‘path of the moon’) rumbled beneath him. The 
heavens glowed with fire and the earth was pelted with hail, as Thor’s 
chariot, drawn by goats, sped to the meeting with Hrungnir. Rocks 



shivered and broke and, when he prepared to meet the god, the giant 
stood on his shield (randar iss). He was crushed by the hammer but, as 
he fell, the giant’s whetstone, evidently the counter-part of Thor’s 
hammer, crashed into Thor’s skull, where it lodged until a woman 
loosened it with a magic song. 

The sequence of the Haustlgng is by no means easy to follow, but other 
poets showed by their allusions that the story of Th6r and Hrungnir 
was known widely. Bragi described Th6r as ‘Hrungnir’ s skull-splitter, 5 
and his hammer was called ‘ Hrungnir ’s bane’. 6 The scald, Korm&k, in 
the late tenth century, called a shield ‘the platform of Hrungnir’s feet’, 7 
and Bragi 8 called it by the double kenning ‘the leaf of the feet of the 
thief of Thrud’. The thief of Thru 5 must be Hrungnir and, since Thrud 
was a daughter of Thor, we may suppose that there was a version of the 
myth in which the giant had provoked the god’s anger by raping her. 9 

Snorri, 10 who preserved the lines quoted from the Haustlgng , told an 
elaborate tale of Thor and Hrungnir, showing that he had access to 
other sources besides this poem. Because of CSinn’s indiscretion, the 
giant had been invited into Asgar6 while Thor was away in the east. 
As he got drunk, Hrungnir began to use boastful, threatening words ; 
he would take the whole of Valholl to the world of giants ; he would 
sink Asgard and kill all the gods and goddesses, except Freyja and 
Thdr’s wife, Sif, whom he would keep for himself. In their distress, the 
gods named Thor, who appeared brandishing his hammer. He accepted 
Hrungnir’s challenge to a duel, and the giant now set off to prepare for 
it. Meanwhile, Hrungnir’s brother-giants were apprehensive. How 
would they fare at the hands of Thor, if Hrungnir, strongest of their 
race were killed? They resorted to a ruse ; they built a gigantic figure of 
clay, called him Mgkkurkalfi, and put a mare’s heart into him, the only 
heart big enough. 

The clay giant stood terrified beside Hrungnir on the appointed 
field, waiting for Thor. Thor drew near accompanied by his follower, 
Thjdlfi, who ran forward and deceitfully told Hrungnir that he did 
unwisely in holding his shield before his body, for Thor would attack 
him from underground. It was because of this that the giant stood on 
his shield. 

At the next moment, amid thunder and lightning, Thor appeared. 
The god hurled his hammer and the giant his whetstone, and the 
weapons met in mid-air. The hammer completed its course and 
smashed the giant’s skull, but the whetstone split in two, and one half 
lodged in Thor’s head. When the giant fell, his leg was over Thor’s 
neck, holding him to the ground. No one could move it but Magni, the 
infant son of Thor and the giantess Jamsaxa. 



Thor then returned to his home, ThruSvangar, with the stone in his 
skull. It was deduced from the Haustlgng that the witch had drawn out 
the stone by magic, but Snorri tells a more elaborate story and, as he 
had it, the operation was not successful. The witch Groa arrived and 
began her chant ; the stone was loosened, but before she had finished, 
Gr6a forgot her words, and so the stone remains fast in Thdr’s skull. 

Snorri’s explanation why Thor’s skull was not relieved of the stone is 
yet more puzzling. Groa, the witch, was the wife of Aurvandill (v.l. 
Qroandill ), nicknamed the Bold. As she began to loosen the stone in his 
head, Thor wished to please her ; he told her how he had carried her 
husband from the distant north in a basket, and it would not be long 
before he arrived home. As a proof, Th6r said that one of AurvandilTs 
toes, sticking out of the basket, had frozen. Thor had broken it off and 
hurled it into the sky, where it became a star called ‘Aurvandill’s toe’. 
The witch was so pleased with this news that she forgot her charms. 

It is likely that ‘Aurvandill’s toe’ was the name given to a star in the 
Middle Ages, whether to the morning-star or another. This is supported 
by the use of the word earendel in Old English, which is glossed as jubar 
and aurora. In a Blickling Homily, St John the Baptist is called : se niwa 
eorendel and, in a hymn in the Exeter Book 11 , Christ is addressed : 

Eala Earendel, engla beorhtast 

translating : 

O jubar angelorum, angelorum splendissime. 

In his account of Th6r and Aurvandill, Snorri was probably retelling 
a folk-story, which had arisen to explain the name of a star called 
‘Aurvandill’s toe’. Saxo tells also of a hero called Horvendillus, father 
of Hamlet, and a Middle High German epic names an Orendel. 
Attempts have been made to identify these figures with Snorri’s Aur- 
vandill, but they have nothing but names in common. 12 It should be 
added that, in the Hdrbardsljod (19), Thor boasted that he had hurled 
the eyes of the giant Thjazi (see Ch. VII, NjorS) into the sky, where 
they shone as a perpetual mark of his glory. According to Snorri, on the 
other hand, it was 6Sinn who made stars of Thjazi’s eyes. 

The tale of Thor’s visit to the giant Geirrod was hardly less famous 
than that of his duel with Hrungnir. It was described in the Porsdrdpa 13 
of Eilff Godrunarson, a scald of the late tenth century (see Gh. I, second 
section) and again by Snorri. 

The Porsdrdpa is the most intricate of all scaldic lays, and it will be 
long before agreement is reached on details of its interpretation. The 

' 78 


poet begins by describing how his faithless friend, Loki, had urged the 
thunder-god ( Herprumu Gautr) to visit the house of Geirrod, telling him 
that green paths lay all the way. Thor set off for the giant world, evi- 
dently accompanied by the runner, Thjdlfi. The journey was beset with 
danger. A raging torrent had to be crossed ; it was not a natural torrent, 
but one swollen with the urine or menstrual blood of giantesses. The 
waters reached to Thor’s shoulders (str. 8), and Thj&lfi would have 
succumbed, had he not clung to his master’s belt or shield-strap (str. 9). 
The god and his companion were driven by the stream, perhaps to a 
rowan-tree {esja von or vgn) 1 * After they arrived at the house of the 
giant, some obscure incidents followed. Thor, it seems, broke the backs 
of the two daughters of the giant, and the giant hurled a pole of red-hot 
iron at the god’s mouth (str. 15). When Thor caught the glowing iron 
in mid-air, the giant took refuge behind a pillar, but Thor drove the 
pole into his belt and crashed his hammer upon him (str. 19). Mean- 
while, Thjalfi helped his master, and fell upon the giant, evidently in 
the form of a falcon (strs. 19, 20). 

Many phrases in the Porsdrdpa are obscure to us because our know- 
ledge of the underlying myth is less than the poet expected. 15 It has 
been said that Snorri, who alone preserved the lay, has misinterpreted 
it, and thus made it more difficult for us. In reality, Snorri’s account of 
Thor’s journey provides an interesting example of his method; he com- 
bined Eilff’s version of the story with those which he knew from other 
sources. He quotes two strophes from a poem in Eddaic and not scaldic 
form, and it is probable that he knew more of this poem, and perhaps 
more of the Porsdrdpa that he quoted. 

Snorri leads in with an introduction, explaining how it was that Loki 
undertook to get Th6r into the house of the giant (see Ch, V). This 
introduction is humorous in tone, and we may suspect that it was de- 
vised by mythologists of the twelfth century to answer the question left 
obscure in older sources, why Thor had been persuaded to undertake 
the perilous journey. 

According to Snorri, Thor set off without his belt of strength ( megin - 
gjardar) and without his hammer. This seems to contradict the Porsdrdpa 
(str. 19) where, according to the most natural interpretation, the god 
was equipped with Mjollnir, the symbol of his power. 

Another difference between Snorri’s story and that of th t Porsdrdpa is 
that Snorri makes Loki the companion of Th6r, and says nothing of 
Thj&lfi. On his way to the house of the giant, Thdr came to a giantess, 
Grid, one of Odinn’s mistresses. She warned Th6r of the giant’s un- 
fathomable cunning, and lent him a girdle of strength, a pair of iron 
gloves and a staff. The god reached the torrent, here called Vimur, and 




pressed upstream, while the river was made to swell up to his shoulders 
by Gjalp, one of the daughters of Geirrod, who was straddling it. Thor 
hurled a rock at the giantess, saying in an alliterating phrase : ‘a river 
must be damned at the source’ (at osi skal d stemma) . Thor struggled to 
shore, where he grasped a rowan (j reynir) i and it afterwards became a 
proverb : ‘the rowan is the salvation of Thor’ (see Thor in the Viking 
Colonies, below). 

When Thor and his companion came to the house of the giant, they 
were conducted to a goat shed. The god sat on a chair, and it began to 
rise to the rafters ; he struck the rafters with the stick lent him by Grid, 
and the chair sank rapidly. Beneath it were Gjalp and Greip, the two 
daughters of Geirrod, whose backs were broken. 

After this, the giant summoned Thor to his hall to join him in 
sports. The giant seized some glowing iron and hurled it at Thor with 
his tongs, but the god caught it in his iron gloves. The giant took refuge 
behind a pillar, but Thor threw the glowing iron through the pillar, 
the giant, the wall of the house, and out into the earth. 

The tale of Thor and Geirrod remained popular in the Middle Ages 
(see Ch. I, Saxo Grammaticus). In Saxo’s version (Book VIII) the 
plac6 of the god is taken by Thurkillus, who died a Christian, and, in the 
Icelandic Porsteins Pdttr B&jarmagns by Thorsteinn, a servant of 
Olaf Tryggvason. The giant, in Saxo’s version, was brother of Gud- 
mund of Glasisvellir, 16 a half-earthly king. The lands of these brothers 
were separated by a river spanned with a bridge of gold. The residence 
of the giant was foul, gloomy and neglected and in it was an old man 
whose body had been pierced with red-hot irons. With him were three 
diseased women with broken backbones. At this point Saxo distin- 
guished his hero from Thor, for he made Thurkillus say that years ago 
the god Thor, provoked by the giants’ insolence, had driven red-hot 
irons through the vitals of Geirrod (Geruthus), and the backs of his 
women had been smashed by thunderbolts ( fuhninum ). 

The Porsteins Pdttr is, in some details, closer to Snorri’s version of the 
story of Th6r than to Saxo’s of Thurkillus, although it contains some 
strange motives not to be found in any of the others. In spite of great 
differences, several motives in these four versions of the story remain 
constant. The most significant is that of the torrential river, whether 
called Vimur or Hemra, which divides the world of men from that of 
giants. It is like the river Gjoll, spanned with a gold-thatched bridge, 
over which Hermod passed on his way to the world of death. The giants 
are the devouring demons of death ; they may even be the dead, and it 
is Thor who defends us from their greed. 


Thor's hammer and goats 

In some of the myths just quoted, Thor was seen swinging or hurling 
a hammer. The hammer is occasionally replaced by a club, 1 and it is 
hard to think of the mighty god without such a symbol of power. 

The hammer was called Mjqllnir and, although the origin of this 
name is not known, etymological speculation has not been unfruitful, 
Mjqllnir has been compared with the Icelandic verbs mala (to grind) and 
molva (crush), but some have associated it rather with Russian molnija 
and Welsh mellt (lightning). 2 The suggestion that the name of Mjollnir 
is ultimately related to these words is particularly attractive. Since 
Thor was the god of thunder, we may suppose that his weapon was 
originally the lightning, or like Indra’s, the thunderbolt. In Saxo’s 
version of the story of Geirrod, Thor seems to crush the giantesses with 
the force of thunderbolts. 

Allusions to Thor’s hammer were made by heathen poets, Bragi 3 and 
Eih'f, 4 but for detailed accounts of its force and functions we must look 
to Snorri’s Edda and particularly to the poem Prymskvida (see Ch. I, Old 
Norse Poetry). This poem, as already remarked, is a joke, presenting a 
caricature of the noble Th6r. The poet has drawn on several older lays 
which we know, and it is not venturesome to suggest that he also drew 
on ancient lays now lost. 

Parts of the story told in the Prymskvida will be given in a later chap- 
ter. In brief, it tells how Thor’s hammer was stolen by the giant Thrym, 
whose tribe would conquer Asgard unless it were recovered. But the 
giant refused to restore it unless the gods gave him Freyja as his bride. 
The goddess angrily refused to go to the world of the giants, but the 
poet describes Thor, most masculine of gods, travelling to the giant 
world wearing the dress and jewels of Freyja, and pretending to be the 
giant’s bride. Even in this disguise Thor could not restrain his enor- 
mous appetite. In the Hymiskvida (str. 15) he had devoured two oxen 
while visiting a giant, and in the Prymskvida (str. 24) he made supper 
of an ox, eight salmon and all the dainties reserved for the ladies, 
washed down with three gigantic measures of mead. 

In the end, the hammer was brought forth and placed on the knees of 
the supposed bride, in order to hallow her (brudi at vigja , str. 30), but 
the god now disclosed his identity ; he grasped the hammer and crashed 
it on the skulls of giants. 

Ironical as it is, this story explains one of the functions of Mjollnir. It 
was not merely an offensive weapon. In hallowing the bride, it prob- 
ably brought her fertility, and it has sometimes been regarded as a 
phallic symbol. 5 

According to the Haustlqng (str. 15) Th6r rode in a chariot drawn by 



goats. In the Husdrdpa (str. 3) he was called hafra njotr (user of goats), 
and in the Hymiskvida (str. 31) he is the hafra drottinn (lord of goats) . A 
story in clerical tone, probably dating from the late twelfth or early 
thirteenth century is preserved in the great codex Flateyjarbok . 6 It is told 
there how the Christian King Olaf Tryggvason entered a temple at 
Mcerin, in Thr&ndheim. He saw many idols, and Th6r, who was wor- 
shipped most of all, was in the middle of them : ‘he was of enormous 
size, and worked all over in gold and silver. This is how Thor was 
arranged: he was sitting in a chariot, a very splendid one, and two 
wooden go&ts, finely carved, were harnessed before it . . .’ 

As the boar was held sacred to Freyr, and the ram to Heimdall, the 
goat was sacred to Thor. 7 The Hymiskvida (str. 37) alludes obscurely to a 
story that Loki had half-killed one of Thor’s goats. This must be a 
variant of Snorri’s famous story about Thor’s journey to the giant 
tltgarSaloki. 8 According to Snorri, it was the youth Thj&lfi who 
damaged the goat and, in recompense, Thj&Ifi and his sister Roskva 
were made Thor’s bounden followers. Snorri’s story of the wounded 
goat is exceptionally interesting. Thdr had slaughtered both his goats 
and eaten them for supper. In the morning he hallowed {vigdi) them 
with his hammer. They stood up, but one of them was lame in the hind 
leg because Thj&lfi had split the thigh-bone to get at the marrow. Com- 
parable stories have been recorded in Ireland and in many other lands, 9 
but the closest parallels, applied to calves rather than to goats, are 
found in Armenian apocrypha. Stories are told there of a calf, the gift 
of God or an angel, which was slaughtered, and one leg thrown away. 

It was afterwards revived, but one leg was missing. 10 

The use of the verb vigja (to hallow, consecrate) 11 suggests that in 
Thdr’s revival of his goats we have to do with something deeper than 
folktale. It is, indeed, remarkable how often this verb is used to denote 
the activities of Thor and his hammer. As the funeral pyre of Baldr was 
set alight, Snorri says : Porr vigdi bdlit med Mjgllni (Th6r hallowed the 
pyre with Mjollnir). 12 Thor’s object may have been, as it was when he 
hallowed his goats, to restore the god to life, or it may have been to 
preserve him from danger on his journey to the world of death. 

Until the end of the pagan period, Th6r was remembered as the 
protector and hallower of the dead. His name had been read in a cipher 
found on the great memorial stone of Rok in East Gotland, commonly 
assigned to the mid-ninth century. 13 The god’s protection is also invoked 
in plainer language in a number of memorial inscriptions of the tenth 
and eleven centuries and in these the characteristic verb vigja is some- 
times used. An inscription on a stone, found at Glavendrup in Fyn and 
carved about 900-925, contains the words pur uiki pasirunar (may Thor 

82 ; 1 


hallow these runes). The stone of Virring in Denmark, carved about the 
end of the tenth century, reads : pur uiki pisi kuml (may Thor hallow this 
memorial) . Sometimes a shorter formula pur uiki (may Thor hallow) is 
found, and sometimes, as on the stone of Lasborg in Jutland (c. 925-50), 
the god’s protection is invoked by the picture of a hammer carved on 
the stone. It wall be noticed that stones which bear such inscriptions 
are found in Denmark and in southern Sweden. They were perhaps 
inspired by the example of Christians, who carved such inscriptions as : 
‘may God help his soul’. 14 

While some invoked Thor’s protection of their dead in’ runes and 
carved pictures, others placed miniature hammers of silver or other 
metal in graves. More than forty of these amulets have been found, 
and some of them measure little more than 2 cms in length. They are 
often furnished with a loop, so that they might be attached to clothing, 
These hammers date mostly from the latter years of the tenth century, 
or early eleventh, and are found in greatest numbers in Denmark, 
southern Norway and south-eastern Sweden, 16 where the influence of 
Christianity was strongest. They may perhaps be regarded as the pagan 
answer to the miniature cross, worn on clothing or placed in graves. 
One example, now in the British Museum, was found at Cuerdale, in 
Lancashire. 16 In quality and workmanship, the hammers vary greatly. 
Some of them are beautifully worked in silver, ending in fantastic 
eagle-heads with piercing eyes, reminiscent of the piercing eyes of 
Thor as they are described in the Prymskvida ( qndottaugu , str. 27). Others 
are roughly and simply worked in iron, and can have nothing more 
than a symbolic value. 

A particularly interesting find was made at Foss in Hrunaman- 
nahreppur, in S.W. Iceland. 17 This is believed to date from the tenth 
century. It is very different from the typical images of hammers found 
in Scandinavia, and looks as if it were a compound of a hammer and a 
cross, even the work of a man of mixed religion. A miniature silver axe is 
also reported to have been found in the same place. 

Another interesting find was made in the north of Iceland. This is a 
bronze statuette, 6.7 cms tall, of a sitting man with a long beard, said to 
date from about ad 1000. 18 With his two hands, the man grasps an 
object which closely resembles the Foss ‘hammer’ just mentioned. Such 
objects were probably made to be carried in the purse or pocket, en- 
suring the protection of the god. It may be remembered how the Ice- 
landic poet, HallfreS, by that time a Christian, was charged before Olaf 
Tryggvason with keeping an ivory image of Th6r in his purse, and 
worshipping it secretly. 19 

D. Stromback 20 has made some observations on the significance of 




the hammer in Iceland. In a list of churches and notable places in the 
diocese of Skalaholt, it is said that Helkunduheidr, in the extreme north- 
east, divides the Eastern Quarter from the Northern, and there, on the 
moor, Thdr’s hammer ( hamarr Pars) is erected, and this is the dividing 
mark. Although preserved only in manuscripts of the seventeenth and 
eighteenth centuries, this document was probably drawn up about 

I200. 21 

The axe, in form, resembles the hammer and it seems also to be 
associated with Thor. Stromback, in the paper just mentioned, quotes a 
passage from the Landndmabok , 22 illustrating its sacral significance. A 
certain Einar Thorgeirsson sailed from Orkney with a party of others to 
settle in north-eastern Iceland. They landed in a fjord, since called 
0 xarfjqrdr (Axe-fjord). They set up an axe at a place called Reistargnupr, 
an eagle at another point, and a cross at the third, and thus they took <- 
possession of the whole of the Axe-fjord. 

The axe and the cross suggest that Einar and his companions were of 
mixed belief, like Helgi the Lean, and those in whose graves miniature 
crosses and hammers have been found side by side. 23 The significance 
of the eagle is more difficult to determine, and it is not said whether it 
was a dead eagle, a live one, or an image. But the eagle, like his sworn 
brother ( eidbrodir ), the raven, is Odinn’s bird; an eagle, probably in 
effigy, hovers over the door of Valholl ; 24 cutting the blood-eagle ( blodgm ) 
was a form of sacrifice to OSinn. 25 It seems, therefore, that these setders 
placed their new lands under the protection of three gods, Thor, Odinn 
and Christ. 

The goat, the hammer and the axe were, as it seems, the oldest 
attributes of Thor, and as symbols of divinity were perhaps older than 
Thor himself. Scandinavian rock-carvers of the Bronze Age depicted 
human figures, often ithyphallic, swinging an axe and sometimes a 
hammer, showing that the axe was a fertility symbol. At least one of 
these figures, grasping two hammers, has a head horned like that of a 
goat. Gold bracteats of the Iron Age show distorted human figures 
mounted on horned and bearded beasts. 

The swastika, which is of eastern origin, must have been introduced 
into the north at a very early time, since it is found on rock-carvings 
and other objects of the Bronze Age. 26 It must also have been used as a 
symbol of Thor’s hammer at a comparatively early time. The Lappish 
god Horagalles ( Porr Karl), who was adapted from Thor, perhaps in the 
early Iron Age, is depicted, not only with a hammer, or two hammers, 
but also with a swastika. 27 In Iceland a form of swastika was used until 
recently as a charm to detect thieves, and was called Pdrshammar , 28 
According to Snorri, 29 King Hakon the Good, a Christian at heart, 


made the sign of the Cross over his cup when he drank the libation, but 
his heathen friends said that he was making the sign of the hammer 
and dedicating his drink to Thor. The Christian sign might well be 
mistaken for that of the hooked cross, and the Christian custom of 
making the sign of the Cross over a drink or meal, could have led 
pagans to hallow their food and drink with a comparable symbol. 

The images of Thor’s hammer are often short in the shaft. Whatever 
its meaning, this fashion appears to be based on an old tradition. 
Snorri gives an explanation : the hammer was forged by a dwarf, but 
he was interrupted in his work by a gnat biting his eyelids. 30 

Snorri 31 tells of two other treasures possessed by Th6r. He had a belt 
(megingjardar) and when he girded himself with it his divine strength 
( asmegin ) was doubled. An allusion to this belt was made already by 
Eilff in his Porsdrdpa (7). 32 He also had a pair of iron gloves with which 
he wielded his hammer. The giantess Grid lent Thor a girdle of strength 
and iron gloves when he was on his way to the house of Geirrod, but 
these are distinguished from his own treasures. 

The Worship of Thor 

Snorri 1 tells how, when the gods were in distress, they called out the 
name of Thor, and he would come to their aid at once, even though he 
might be far away. Rune-masters of the tenth century inscribed Thdr’s 
name on stone, asking his protection, and Icelandic poets of the end of 
the pagan period composed hymns of praise, which can be addressed 
only to Thor. These hymns were preserved by Snorri, 2 and they are 
unlike the scaldic and Eddaic poetry quoted so far in this chapter. In 
them the god is addressed directly in the second person. He is praised 
for his victories over giants and giantesses, for defending our world 
against the forces of chaos. 

Vetrlidi SumarliSason, murdered by Christian missionaries in 
ad 999, made a poem in the simple form Mdlahdttr , commending Thor 
for destroying two giants and two giantesses, including Gjalp ( Gjqlp ), 
probably the daughter of Geirrod : 

Leggi brauzt Leiknar, 
lamdir Privalda, 
steypdir Starkedi, 
stett of Gjglp dauda. 

You smashed the limbs of Leikn, 
you bashed Thrivaldi, 
you knocked down Starkad, 
you trod Gjalp dead under foot . 3 

Thorbjorn Dfsarskald (Poet of the Dis), probably of the same period, 
praised Thor in the scaldic measure, Drottkvatt , for despatching two 
giants and six giantesses : 




Ball i Keilu kolli, 
Kjallandi brauzt alia, 
AQr drapt Lilt ok Lei 3 a, 
lezt dreyra Buseyru, 
heptud Hengjankjpptu, 
Hyrrokin d6 fyrri, 
fib vas snemr en sama 
Svivgr numin lifi. 

(Your hammer) rang on Keila’s skull, 
you crushed the body of Kjallandi— 
you had killed Lut and Leidi — 
you made blood flow from Buseyra, 
you finished Hengjankjapta, 

Hyrrokin died before that, 
earlier the dusky Svivor 
was robbed of her life. 4 

These fragments are slight, but they represent a long and rich tradi- 
tion of religious poetry. 5 No sentiments could be more abhorrent to 
early Christians than those expressed here. The fragments were pre- 
served until Snorri’s time because of the names of giants and giantesses 
which they contain. Such things were the stock-in-trade of poets. 

Much can be learnt about the worship of Th6r and his place in the 
minds of men of the late Viking Age from Icelandic historical writings. 
In these sources Th6r appears not only as the chief god of the settlers 
but also as patron and guardian of the settlement itself, of its stability 
and law. 

The opening clauses of the heathen law of the settlement have been 
quoted. 6 Everyone who had business to perform at a public assembly, 
prosecuting, defending or giving evidence, must swear an oath, and 
call to witness Freyr, Njor 5 and the all-powerful god (him almattki ass). 
Attempts have been made to interpret the unnamed and all-powerful 
one as Ull, 7 and as Ofiinn, 8 but he can scarcely be other than Thor. 9 
Thor stands in contrast to Odinn, a chaotic, amoral figure, as the up- 
holder of order ; he is the chief god of our world. 

Evidence of the regard in which the settlers held Thor may be seen 
in the names which they bore. More than a quarter of some 260 settlers 
named in the Landndmabok bore names of which the first element was 
Por- and, of about 4,000 people named in the whole book, nearly 1,000 
bore names beginning with Por-. Such names were often inherited from 
Norwegian ancestors, but even if they do not show a personal relation- 
ship between the god and the men who bore them, they suggest that 
there was a strong tradition of Thor-worship in the families of those 
who settled Iceland. Few names of other gods appear in Iceland as 
elements in personal names. 10 

Frequently we read of men whose names were changed, either be- 
cause of their own devotion to Thor or because their parents ‘dedi- 
cated’ them to this god. Thus Grimr came to be called Porgrimr , Steinn 
became Porsteinn, Oddr became Poroddr. 11 

The predominance of the worship of Th6r among the settlers of Ice- 
land may also be seen in the place-names. Some twenty place-names, 





excluding secondary ones, distributed throughout the island have P 6 r- 
as their first element. 12 No less than five of these are Porshgfn (Thor’s 
Haven), and another five Porsnes (Thor’s Headland), confirming the 
impression gained from historical literature that Thor was, at this time, 
a god of seafarers. 

Place-names, like personal names, may be transferred from one to 
another, and their value as evidence of the religious outlook of immi- 
grants may be limited. But, devotion to Thor is expressed plainly in 
the story of one of the settlers, Asbjorn Reyrketilsson. According to the 
Landndmabok , 13 Asbjorn took possession of a wooded region in the 
south of Iceland : ‘he dedicated his settlement to Thor and called it 
Thor’s Forest (Porsmork) ’. 

The richest and probably the most reliable of the historical sources 
for the study of Thor is the Eyrbyggja Saga. 1 * This saga tells of Hrolf, a 
chieftain of south-western Norway. He kept a temple, Porshof, dedicated 
to Thor, and he was so devoted to his patron and beloved friend (dstvinr), 
that his name was changed to Thorolf. When, about the year 884, 
Thorolf emigrated to Iceland, he took the timbers of the temple with 
him. As will be mentioned in a later chapter, the image of Thor was 
carved on one of the main supporting pillars. Thorolf threw these pillars 
overboard when he drew near the coast of Iceland, and he made his 
home at the place where they drifted ashore. He believed, not only that 
Thor guided the drift of the pillars, but he was himself in them : ‘Th6r 
had landed !’ (Port hafdi a land komit ! ) . As Thor upheld the world, he up- 
held the temple and many another building. 

Thorolf built a temple near the spot where the pillars had come to 
shore, 16 establishing an assembly and proclaiming the surrounding field 
a holy place (helgistadr ) , to be soiled neither with excrement nor with 
the blood of vengeance. 

After the death of Thorolf, this field was soiled with blood and then 
deemed no holier than any other. Therefore the assembly place was 
moved, and, we may assume, the temple with it. The new field, a few 
miles further inland, was hardly less holy than the old. It contained a 
domhringr , or circle of stones within which judgment was delivered. In, or 
beside this circle was a stone called Thor’s Stone (Pors steinn ) , upon 
which the bones of men sentenced to be sacrificed were broken. 

The Eyrbyggja Saga was probably written about the middle of the 
thirteenth century, 16 but it contains material of much greater age, be- 
cause its author made use of much older works, some of which dated 
from the early twelfth century. 17 The passages quoted are also found, in 
reduced form, in the Landndmabok , 18 which seems here to derive from 
the Eyrbyggja. 



The Landndmabdk contains several other tales illustrating the venera- 
tion and affection with which early Icelanders regarded Thor. He was 
the god of pillars which upheld their houses, and he was their guide in 
voyages at sea, and he came to their aid in distress. 

Hallsteinn, the son of Thorolf who was lately mentioned, took pos- 
session of land in Thorskafjorb, to the north of his father’s settlement. 
After he had offered sacrifice, asking Thor to send him some supporting 
pillars, an enormous tree was washed ashore. Pillars were made of it, 
not only for Hallsteinn’s house, but for nearly all the houses in the 
neighbourhood. 19 

One of the settlers of northern Iceland, when he- first sighted land, 
refused to jettison his pillars, saying that he preferred to invoke Thor 
directly, asking him to show him where to make land. If the land were 
already settled, he would fight for it. 20 

Thor was the chief patron of the settlement but, in the minds of the 
settlers, Thor and Christ were not yet the deadly enemies which they 
were later to become. Several settlers came of the mixed Gaelic-Norse 
families of Ireland and the Hebrides. One of the best-known of these 
was Helgi the Lean, who grew up in Ireland. He believed in Christ, but 
would call on Th6r to guide him at sea, and when great decisions had 
to be made. When he drew near to the coast of Iceland, he called on 
Th6r to show him where to land, and the answer came that he must go 
to the north. But when he had established his new home, Helgi called it 
Kristnes (Christ’s Headland), as it is called to this day. 21 

Since these tales were recorded by Christians at a time when 
memories of heathendom had faded, they often bear a strong Christian 
colouring. One of them tells of a man called Orlyg, brought up in the 
Hebrides by ‘the holy Bishop Patrick’. Before he sailed for Iceland, the 
Bishop gave him some sacred objects, a bell and timbers to build a 
church, which was to be dedicated to St Columba (Kolumkilli). Orlyg 
made the voyage with his foster-brother, Koll, who commanded an- 
other ship. They held the two ships together until they ran into a storm 
and lost their way. Orlyg called on Patrick to help him, and made land 
safely in a bay since called Patrick’s Fjord (Patreksfjordr ) , but his foster- 
brother invoked Thor, and his ship was wrecked. 22 

This story is rather confused, but it looks as if ‘the holy Bishop 
Patrick’ was, originally, the patron of Ireland, who is set up as a suc- 
cessful rival to Th6r. 

Some of the more romantic sagas contain interesting tales about the 
worship of Thor among Icelanders and Greenlanders. Many of these 
bear a clerical stamp, but they may still show what heathens of the 
latest period expected of their favourite, or at least what early Ghris- 



tians thought they expected. When Thorfinn Karlsefni and his fol- 
lowers were exploring the New World, soon after the end of the tenth 
century, they ran short of food. Christian as they were, these men 
called on God to help them, except for one of their number, Thorhall, 
who was a bad Christian ( ilia kristinn). He lay on a rock, gazing into the 
air and muttering verses about his patron, Thor. Soon afterwards a 
whale drifted ashore and Thorhall could boast that he had got some- 
thing for his poetry ; the red-bearded Thor had proved stronger than 
Christ. But when the explorers tasted the meat they fell ill because it 
was poisoned. 23 

Stories like these, to which more could be added, 24 give an impression 
of the growing rivalry between Th6r and Christ. Signs of this might also 
be seen in the miniature hammers found in graves, and the inscribed 
prayers for his protection. To the end, Thor was the defender of the 
pagan world, the world of gods (AsgarS). ThorbjornDisarskald, already 
mentioned, said : 

Torr hefr Yggs me<5 drum Th6r has nobly defended Asgard 

Asgarft of firek vardan with the help of Ygg’s (Odinn’s) servants 

It was not only the monsters of chaos whom Thor must ward off. In 
earlier times, heathens had looked on the White Christ tolerantly, and 
even with indulgence, 25 but when they knew that Christianity threat- 
ened the existence of their world, Christ and his agents assumed the 
position of chaotic demons. It is to the credit of early Christian apolo- 
gists that they allow us to appreciate the sentiments of their antagonists. 

When the German missionary Thangbrand was in Iceland (997-999), 
he found some powerful supporters, but also many opponents, especially 
among the poets. Some of these made verses deriding and slandering 
him, and among them was Vetrlidi, whom the missionaries murdered 
while he was cutting peat. Another poet, also murdered by the Chris- 
tians, had described Thangbrand as the ‘effeminate enemy of gods’ 
| ( argan godvarg ). 26 Most remarkable of all Thangbrand’s opponents was 

the poetess, Steinunn, whose lines clearly show Thor as the champion of 

When Thangbrand’s ship was driven on to a rock and badly dam- 
aged, Steinunn claimed a victory for Thor. Triumphantly she declared 
in two verses that Thor, slayer of the son of the giantess (mggfellandi 
mellu ) had wrecked the ship of the keeper of the bell (priest) ; the gods 
(bgnd) had driven the horse of the sea (ship), and Christ had not 
protected it. 

This story is told in the Kristni Saga (IX), where the verses are pre- 
served, and in slightly different form in the Njals Saga , 27 which adds 



something to it. The poetess met the missionary and tried to convert 
him to the heathen religion. She asked him whether he had heard that 
Thor had challenged Christ to a duel, but Christ had not dared to 
fight. Thangbrand said only that he had heard that Th6r would be 
nothing but dust and ashes, were it not God’s will that he should live. 
The source and age of this story cannot be determined, but it typifies 
the rivalry, perceptible already in earlier sources, between Christ and 
Thor, the noble defender of AsgarS. It shows also how Christians re- 
garded Thor ; he might sink to the level of a demon, but no one could 
say he did not exist. 

I have delayed long over the worship of Thor in Iceland because 
the picture is here uniform and comparatively clear. The history of 
Iceland covers little more than the last century of heathendom. At that 
time Thor was worshipped more widely than any other god, although 
Freyr and NjorS, perhaps also Ofrinn and Baldr were worshipped as 

Runes, archaeological finds, and some of the poems quoted have 
shown that Thor was well known on the mainland of Scandinavia in 
the late pagan period. At this time, his cult was perhaps strongest in 

Such an impression is confirmed by the historical sources, although 
these are neither so rich nor so trustworthy as those in which the wor- 
ship of Thor in Iceland was described. For the most part these historical 
sources are the work of Icelanders, and many of them may be traced to 
Christian apologists, and especially to Benedictine monks of the late 
twelfth century, to Odd Snorrason and to Gunnlaug Leifsson (died 
1218) who could see little in Thor but a demon, arch-enemy of the 
Christian religion. The first aim of such writers was to praise the vic- 
tories of the Christian kings, Olaf Tryggvason (died ad 1000) and 
Olaf the Saint (died ad 1030) over the agents of Satan. They had read 
widely in European hagiography, and the stories which they tell are 
often coloured by this reading. But yet, in their descriptions, the god 
Thor preserved many of the characteristics and attributes which he 
had shown in other sources. He was wise, and he came to the aid of 
those who invoked him. He was the enemy of the giant race, carrying 
his hammer and riding in his chariot. 

It is frequently said that 6 Sinn awards victory, and his toast is 
drunk for victory and the prosperity of kings, 28 but it is often empha- 
sized that Thor was the god held in greatest veneration, and he is men- 
tioned first when sacrifice to the gods is described. 29 

Odd, 30 followed by several later historians, told a characteristic story 
of a meeting between Thor and Olaf Tryggvason. As the King was 


sailing off the coast of Norway in his magnificent Long Serpent, a man 
called from a headland, asking for passage. This was granted, and the 
stranger came aboard, a fine-looking man with a red beard. He made 
much of himself, and poked fun at the King’s men. When they asked 
him to tell them some ancient history, he answered that there would 
be no questions which he could not answer. The stranger was brought 
before the King, and he told him the history of the land which they 
were passing. In the old days it had been peopled by giants, but all of 
them had died except for two women. Then men had come from the 
east to people this region, but they were so cruelly persecuted by the 
two surviving giantesses that they called ‘Red-beard’ to their aid. He 
appeared without delay, drew his hammer from his shirt and crushed 
the giantesses. When he had finished his tale, Th6r dived into the sea 
and vanished. 

Odd 31 had also described the famous temple of Marin in Trondheim, 
where Thor was the God most worshipped. When Olaf Tryggvason 
visited this temple, the squires were preparing a human sacrifice. Pre- 
tending to take part in this sacrifice, Olaf stepped before the idol and 
smashed it with his axe. 

Olaf Tryggvason did not put an end to the worship of Th6r. Sagas 
about Olaf the Saint tell of the temple of GuSbrand 1 Dolum, in central 
Norway. The chief idol was made in the image of Th6r, but, unlike the 
idol at Meerin, this one was tall and stout and stood on a platform hold- 
ing a huge hammer. Thor was hollow inside, and so was the platform 
underneath him. Every day he was fed with great quantities of bread 
and meat. When the idol was brought to the assembly-field at day- 
break, all the heathens bowed down before him. St Olaf told them to 
look to the east and behold his own god riding in glorious light. At that 
moment one of the Bang’s men struck the idol with a club and he fell in 
fragments. Out of him jumped rats as big as cats and all sorts of crawling 
monsters, well nourished on bread and meat. 32 

This story bears the stamp of hagiographic symbolism. The Christian 
god is the sun, and St Olaf is, almost as a medieval poet saw him, the 
ray ( geisli ) of the sun. The chief interest of this story from the present 
point of view is that the God of the Christians is pitted against Thor. 

Another story was told, first by Odd, 33 and again by later writers, 
which plainly illustrates this. Jarl Eirfk, son of the .pagan champion, 
Hakon the Great, was among the chiefs who defeated Olaf Tryggvason 
in the battle of SvolS. Eirik had vowed that he would submit to baptism 
if he defeated the King. Until that time he had worn the image of 
Th6r on his ship’s prow, but now he broke it and replaced it with a 




There are other stories which illustrate the veneration in which Thor 
was held by the last heathens of Norway. 34 On the whole the medieval 
sources suggest that Thor was admired most by those among whom 
tradition was strongest, especially by the landowners of Trondheim 
and of central Norway. He was wise, mighty and brave, incorporating 
the ideals of his worshippers and, as Christian propagandists fail to 
conceal, he was the enemy of evil, chaotic giants. 

This impression of late Norwegian heathendom is gleaned chiefly 
from Icelandic histories, but when we turn to other sources of know- 
ledge the picture changes. M. Olsen’s studies of Norwegian place- 
names 36 have thrown inestimable light on the development of Thor’s 
cult and on his status at earlier periods. The place-names of Norway 
seem to show that Thor’s popularity grew as Christianity drew nearer. 

Although the name of the god is often difficult to detect, since it may 
be confused with such derivative personal names as Porir, it seems that 
memories of the god Thor are preserved in the names of some thirty 
places in Norway. Thor’s name is sometimes combined with words 
denoting natural objects, as it often was in Iceland. Norway provides 
such examples, as Porsnes (Thor’s Headland), Porsberg (Thor’s Rock), 
Porsey (Thor’s Island), But, unlike Iceland, Norway has a number of 
places in which the name of the god is combined with that of a temple 
or sanctuary. The name Porskof is applied to some ten places, grouped 
closely together in the south-east of the country. 

As will be explained in another chapter (Ch. XII), the word hof> if 
not borrowed from continental German, probably developed the mean- 
ing ‘temple’ under continental influence. This might lead us to think 
that the cult of Thor developed in Norway in the Viking Age, and even 
that it was introduced from the Continent. In fact, the total absence of 
place-names compounded with Por- in Trondheim, where the historical 
sources give strong evidence of the cult, might suggest that the god was 
not known there before the last years of the pagan period. 

Such conclusions could not be justified in the present state of our 
knowledge, although the evidence of the place-names does suggest that 
the public cult of Thor increased greatly in Norway during the ninth 
and tenth centuries. Thor’s name is also combined, with some other 
elements, less pronouncedly sacral. Eight or nine places bore the 
name Porsland. Since - land is often combined with names of other 
deities, we may suspect that, like -akr, it developed a sacral meaning. 
Land was often applied to small, dependent farms, and if they give 
evidence of the cult of one god or another, it might be of a private, 
rather than of a public kind. Nevertheless, some of the land-mmts 
appear to date from well before the Viking Age. The name Porsland is 



found chiefly in western Norway, and may suggest that Thor’s cult was 
established there before the Viking Age. It was from this region that 
many emigrated to Iceland in the late ninth century. This may explain 
why the god Thor enjoyed a higher status than any other in the new 

Conditions in Sweden and Denmark are yet . more obscure. In Upp- 
sala and Svealand, as Icelandic and other sources show, Freyr must for- 
long have been foremost of the gods, but at the end of the pagan period 
he seems to be overshadowed by Thor. Describing the temple of Upp- 
sala about the year 1070, Adam of Bremen (IV, 26) mentions idols of 
three gods, Wodan, Thor and Fricco. As in some of the Norwegian and 
Icelandic temples, Thor had his place in the middle, the others standing 
on either side. Thor was the most powerful of the gods ; he ruled in the 
sky and governed thunder, lightning and produce :of the soil. If there is 
danger of pestilence, sacrifice is offered to him. Holding his sceptre he 
resembled Jove. Adam’s observer probably mistook Thdr’s hammer for 
a sceptre, and the idol perhaps resembled the one holding an 
enormous hammer in the temple of Gudbrandsdal. 

Public veneration of an idol of Thor in Sweden is also mentioned in 
a second passage by Adam (II, 62). About the year 1030, Wilfred, an 
English missionary, insulted and publicly smashed this idol with a 
double-headed axe ( bipennis ). He won the martyr’s crown and the 
heathens sank his body in a marsh. 

In his description, Adam showed that, in the eyes of the Swedes of his 
age, it was largely Thor who brought fertility to the crops. Whatever his 
origin, Thor was at this time a fertility god. This is also suggested by the 
occasional occurrence of the place-name Pdrsakr (Thor’s Cornfield), 
particularly in central Sweden. The name of the god is often combined 
with other elements in place-names, especially in those of the eastern 
regions of Sweden. The second element has sometimes a sacral force, 
e.g. lundr (grove), vi (sacred place), hqrgr (mound, shrine). Names like 
these suggest that Thor was publicly worshipped in the places to which 
they were applied. More often the name of Thor is combined with that 
of a natural object, such as sar (lake), berg (rock), ass (ridge). 36 

Thor was not among the first gods to enjoy public worship in Sweden, 
but he rose to eminence in the last period of heathendom. In the end, it 
was not Cdinn, and no longer Freyr, but Thor who was mightiest of 
gods ( potentissimus eorum ), and took the central place. 

The religious history of Denmark is yet more obscure than that of 
Sweden, but the inscriptions and miniature hammers of the late Viking 
period show that Th6r was rising in eminence there as elsewhere. In- 
numerable place-names which may contain the name Por- are found 



throughout Denmark, although doubts have been cast on the origin of 
many of them. Among the names believed to preserve reliable memo- 
ries of Thdr’s cult are no less than seven of the type Porslundr (Thor’s 
Grove) and two Porsakr (Thor’s Cornfield), showing that here, as in 
Sweden, Thor was one of those gods who brought fertility to the fields. 
Thor’s name appears in many instances to be combined with designa- 
tions of natural objects, e.g. haugr (mound), berg (rock), ey (island). 37 

Consideration of the worship of Thor in various parts of Scandinavia 
had led to the conclusion that he grew more and more eminent in the 
evening of heathendom. He defended men against monsters, and the 
gods relied on him to save AsgarS from the giants. In the same way, 
Th6r was thought best fitted to defend heathendom against the 
aggression of Christ. But the evidence of Iceland, and to a lesser extent 
of the West Norwegian place-names shows that Thor’s cult was firmly 
established in western districts in the latter part of the ninth century. 
The settlement of Iceland, as is emphasized in historical sources, was 
prompted largely by conservative interests. Th6r maintained order and 
security. It was to him that men turned, not only for protection against 
Christ and giants, but also against the landgrabbing, upstart kings of 

Thor in the Viking Colonies 

Vikings of the ninth and tenth centuries carried their religion to 
colonies in the west, where it thrived and even spread. In Ireland, 
Thor was the chief god of the invaders. The Norse rulers of Dublin were 
called ‘the tribe of Tomar’ ( muinter Tomair ), and Tomar is an Irish 
adaptation of the name Porr. 1 In the neighbourhood of Dublin there 
was a ring or bracelet ( fail no f dine) belonging to Tomar, and probably 
kept in a temple dedicated to him. This ring may correspond with 
those holy rings, kept in temples of Iceland, on which oaths were 
sworn. It was seized by an Irish chieftain in the year 994. 

In the same region there was a Coill Tomair or ‘Grove of Thor’. It 
consisted of stately trees and huge oaks and was burnt down by Brian 
about the year 1000. 2 The Grove of Thor in Ireland may be associated 
with the Porslundar of eastern Scandinavia, as well as with other sacred 
groves in Iceland, Sweden and Germany. 

The vikings of Normandy also worshipped Thor and, according to 
Dudo of St Quentin, 3 they offered him human sacrifice, the most 
precious of all, expecting to assure favourable winds at sea and good 
fortune in war. 

The Norse god Th6r was also well known in England in - Viking 
times. Whether the work of a Scandinavian or British artist, the ‘Fish- 



ing Stone’ of Gosforth suggests that the pagan myth of Thor, the giant 
Hymir and the World Serpent had infiltrated the Christian legend of 

In the year 876, Scandinavian invaders undertook to leave the king- 
dom, swearing an oath before Alfred on the ‘holy ring’, an oath so holy 
that they had consented to swear it before no people before. 4 It might 
be supposed that these vikings were swearing in the name of Th6r, the 
all-powerful god. But since they broke their oath the same night, it is 
more probable that they called on Odinn, the oath-breaker, to witness it. 

Thor had, of course, been known to English pagans under the name 
Punor. But English homilists who wrote of him in the late tenth and 
eleventh centuries consistently called him by his Scandinavian name 
Pur, Por. They thus showed that they were facing, not a revival of English 
heathendom, but an alien religion introduced by Vikings, and, as 
Wulfstan showed in his famous address to the English ( c . 1014), 5 
gaining ground at his period. 

vElfric, in his Life of St Martin 6 tells how the Devil used to appear 
before that Saint in the form of heathen gods, sometimes in the form of 
Jove, who is Por , sometimes in the form of Mercury, whom people 
called Opon, and sometimes in the form of that foul goddess Venus, who 
is called Fricg. 

The homily Defalsis deis is commonly assigned to iElfric, 7 and it is 
included with slight modification among Wulfstan’s homilies. 8 Thor is 
there identified with Jove, most venerable of gods ( arwurdost ), and he is 
the one whom the Danes love most. But the homilist returns to the 
identification of Thor with Jove, for it causes him some difficulty. It is 
true that the Danes, in their ignorance, said that Thor was the same as 
Jove, but they were wrong ; the god whom the Danes called Por was 
son of Mercury, whom they call Opon, but it was known from books that 
Jove was the son of Saturn. 

These rather dialectical remarks show that Scandinavians in England 
knew the tradition that Thor was son of 03 inn, and this must have been 
more than a poetic conceit. It is interesting also to learn that Thor was 
the god whom the invaders of England loved most. 

The cult of the Scandinavian Thor has certainly left traces in English 
place-names, but the god’s name is difficult to distinguish, both be- 
cause of confusion with personal names of the type Porir and because of 
confusion with names derived from the original English Punor . 9 Future 
studies will certainly throw light on such problems, but English scholars 
who have studied place-names of religious significance have generally 
excluded those which may be of Scandinavian origin. 1 ® 

Scandinavian or Varangian merchants and settlers of the ninth and 



tenth centuries probably carried the worship of Thor to their colonies 
in the east although the cult there is less easy to trace. A chronicler men- 
tions a Turova boinica in Kiev in the year 1046, and this may originally 
have been a temple of Thor. 11 But, in Russia, the god whom Norsemen 
worshipped most was generally called Perm, and he is mentioned some 
five times in the Chronicle between 907 and 988. In 907, Oleg con- 
cluded a treaty with the Christian Greeks, who kissed the Cross. The 
heathen ‘Russians’, in their turn, swore according to ‘Russian 5 custom, 
by their weapons and by their god Perun, as well as by Volos, god of 
cattle and wealth. 

Again in 945, Christians swore by Almighty God, out the pagans 
called down the wrath of Perun on their own heads ; may their shields 
give them no protection, may they fall by their own weapons, and be 
slaves in this world and the next if they break their oath. The ‘Russians’, 
under Svyatoslav, swore a similar oath in the year 971, and again in- 
voked Volos as well as Perun. 

It has been noticed that the oath on weapons is typically Scandi- 
navian in form, 12 and this is one of the reasons which have led many to 
agree that Perun, whom the Varangians called ‘their god’, was in fact 
Thor, the god most widely worshipped by viking settlers. 

With less reason, Volos has been identified with the Norse fertility 
symbol Volsi (see Ch. XIII), and therefore with the fertility god 
Freyr, 13 but he seems rather to be a Slav god than a god of the Varan- 
gians. Unlike Perun, he is not ‘their god’. 14 

In 980, Vladimir, who was still a heathen, set up an idol of Perun in 
Kiev. It stood, together with idols of other gods, on a mound ; it was 
made of wood with a head of silver and a moustache of gold. Men used 
to bring their sons and daughters to these idols, and the ground was 
soiled with blood. 15 We may suppose that Varangians and Slavs used 
to sacrifice their sons and daughters to Perun, just as heathens in the 
island of Gotland sacrificed their sons and daughters (synum oc dydrum 
sinum). 16 This human sacrifice was perhaps dedicated in the first place 
to Perun, just as human sacrifice was offered to Thor in western Ice- 
land 17 and by vikings in Normandy. 18 

Perun appears to be the chief god of the Varangians and it would be 
natural to suppose that, if he was really Th6r, he was given the name of 
a corresponding Slav god. But Perun is scarcely mentioned except in 
connexion with the Varangians, and it has been denied that there ever 
was a Slav god of that name. It has been suggested rather that perun is a 
nom agentis , meaning ‘striker’, and this would be an apt name for the 
thunder-god, Thor. 19 But, in spite of certain philological difficulties, it 
is hard to dissociate Perun from the Lithuanian thunder-god Perku- 



nas. 20 The name Perkunas is comparable with that of the Old Norse 
god Fjqrgynn (see Gh. VIII, Frigg and others, below), although rela- 
tionship between the two has been questioned. 21 Ultimately, the names 
Perun and Perkunas are perhaps related with that of the Indian storm- 
god Parjanya, but the etymology is altogether obscure. 22 

Perkunas was known among Old Prussians as Percuno{&). Mrs Chad- 
wick 23 remarks on a practice recorded among this people in the six- 
teenth century. A sacrifice held in honour of Percuno(s) included the 
slaughter of a goat. 24 The goat was the beast sacred to Thor, and per- 
haps to Percuno(s) as well. 

I have just mentioned a Norse god Fjorgynn, about whom very little 
is known. According to the Lokasenna (str. 26), Frigg, wife of OSinn, 
was Fjgrgyns mar. This could be interpreted ‘Fjorgynn’s mistress’, which 
would seem the most likely meaning in the context, but Snorri 25 said 
that Frigg was daughter of Fjorgynn. 

Beside the male god Fjorgynn, there was a goddess Fjorgyn, of whom 
rather more is told. In the Vqluspa (str. 26) and in the Harbardsljod 
(str. 56), Fjorgyn is said to be the mother of Thor, and she may there- 
fore be identified with JorS (Earth), who is said in other texts to be 
Thor’s mother. In poetry, Eddaic as well as scaldic, the word fjgrgyn is 
used for ‘earth’. It is said to be related to Old English furh , Old High 
German furuh, and Latin porca, meaning either ‘ridge’ or ‘furrow’. 26 It 
has been further argued that the male god Fjorgynn had no ancient 
roots, and that he was invented arbitrarily to form a male counterpart 
of the goddess Fjorgyn. 

There are some reasons to doubt this conclusion. Fjorgyn herself is so 
shadowy a figure, and so rarely mentioned, that it is hard to see why 
poets of a late period should feel the need of creating a male counter- 
part for her. The name Fjorgynn appears in various forms, but only in 
the genitive. In the Codex Regius of the Poetic Edda, it is Fjgrgyns ; in 
Snorri’s Edda it appears in different manuscripts as Fjqrgvins, Fjgrgyns 
and Fjgrgvns. A nom. form such as Fjqrgunn would correspond more 
closely with the Lithuanian Perkunas, and would allow us to suppose 
that Fjorgunn was an ancient storm-god or thunder-god. This could 
explain why his female counterpart was identified with the earth- 
goddess, JorS, mother of Thor. Thor might, then, have been thought of, 
at one time, as son of the goddess Fjorgyn and the god Fjorgynn, whose 
position he later usurped. Without further argument, this could explain 
why the eastern Scandinavians, always archaic' in their religious prac- 
tices, identified their thunder-god with the Balto-Slav Perkunas or the 
Slav Perun. 

It is not surprising that the Lapps adopted the cult of Thor from their 



southern neighbours, just as they adopted many other figures of Norse 
mythology, and developed them in their own way. 

The practices of the heathen Lapps have been recorded only since 
the seventeenth century, but they express beliefs many centuries old. 

The Lappish thunder-god was known by various names. In some 
regions he was Diermes or Tiermes , the sky-man, and in others he was 
Hora galles which is a loan from the Nors tPorrKarl (the Old Man Thor), 
a name occasionally given to the Norse thunder-god. 27 He was also 
known to the Lapps under the name Tor. 

It may not be necessary to believe with Olrik, 28 that the Lapps bor- 
rowed Thor with other members of the Norse pantheon so early as the 
Bronze Age or early Iron Age, but the Lappish thunder-god pre- 
serves archaic features which have been obscured in the Norse literary 
records. While Snorri and the Norse poets give Thor a wife, Sif, the 
Lapps gave Hora galles a wife, Ravdna. This, it seems, is no other than 
the Norwegian raun, Swedish ronn and Icelandic reynir, ‘rowan, moun- 
tain ash*. It was said that the red berries of this tree were sacred to 
Ravdna. 29 

In the myth of Thor and the giant GeirroS, as it was told by Snorri, 
and perhaps also in the obscure lines of the Porsdrapa, Thor saved him- 
self in the torrent by clinging to a rowan, and thus arose the proverb, 
‘the rowan is the salvation of Thor’ ( reynir er bjgrg Pors) . Probably the 
wife of Thor was once conceived in the form of a rowan, to which the 
god clung. The rowan was a holy tree in many lands, but nowhere 
more than in Iceland, where it has been revered from the settlement to 
the present day. 30 

The Lapp thunder-god was depicted on the shamans’ drums with a 
hammer in each hand, or with a hammer in one hand and an axe in the 
other. He was a terrible, dangerous god, but if proper sacrifice were 
offered, he would drive the thunder and lightning away with one hand 
and hurl it with the other on the enemies of his worshippers. According 
to an authority of the seventeenth century, 31 one of the god’s functions 
was to kill the trolls, who dwelt in every mountain, rock and lake. He 
also governed health, life and death. 

The Finns called their thunder-god Ukko, the ‘old man’. He had a 
wife called Rami , which is the same word as the Lappish Ravdna , but in 
other ways Ukko differs greatly from the Lappish god. 32 He is less to 
be feared, and in him the fertilizing results of the thunder and the rain 
which follows it are more strongly emphasized. 

Th6r- Thunor 

The heathen English had worshipped a god Thunor ( Punor ), but when 



I mentioned the introduction of the Scandinavian Thor into England 
during the Viking Age, I purposely excluded the corresponding native 
deity. By the ninth century, when the Viking invasions began, English 
heathendom had long been dead, at least as an organized religion, and 
the god Thunor can have been remembered by few. The English 
forms Punor , Puner are occasionally used to gloss Jupiter, although the 
Norse forms Pur , Par are not less common in such texts. 

In a study of heathendom and Old English place-names, F. M. 
Stenton 1 reached some remarkable conclusions about the cult of 
Thunor in pre-Christian England. Punor - is by no means uncommon 
as an element in place-names, but it is strangely limited in distribution. 
In the territories of the Saxons and perhaps of the Jutes, the element 
Punor is common enough, but there are no certain examples of it in 
Anglian territory, which may imply that the god was hardly known 
among the Angles. 

The second element of the Punor- names is also of much interest. The 
hundred-name Thurstable in Essex originally meant Thunor’s Pillar. 3 
Names of the type Punor es hlazv or Thunor’s Mound are recorded more 
than once, and seem to preserve memories of public worship. Stenton 
also mentions no less than six examples in which the god’s name is 
compounded with leak, which is interpreted ‘sacred grove’. These 
names therefore correspond with Porslundr (Thor’s grove), which is 
common in eastern Sweden and is also found in Denmark. The English 
god’s name is also compounded with feld (field) in examples such as 
Punresfeld. These are reminiscent of Porsakr and Porsvin, which again are 
characteristic of eastern rather than of western Scandinavia, and sug- 
gest that English worshippers emphasized the fertilizing power of 
Thunor and his rain-bringing thunder. 

In Old English thunder is called dunorrad and dunorradstefn, com- 
pounds in which the second element rad probably means ‘moving, 
travelling’. This is reminiscent of Icelandic words for thunder, such as 
reidarpruma , reidarduna, or simply reifi (f., generally plural), which seem to 
imply that thunder is believed to be the noise which Thor makes travel- 
ling in his chariot. This conception was probably present already in the 
Haustlqng (str. 14), which was quoted above. 

In the Old English dialogue Salomon and Saturn, 3 the thunder is said 
to strike the devil with a fiery axe {pare jyrenan ecxe). Perhaps this re- 
flects a conception that the thunder-god was armed with an axe. 

For the rest, the literary sources have next to nothing to tell of 
Thunor. Unlike other gods, he does not figure in the genealogies of 
royal houses. His name is, however, applied in an apocryphal story, 
probably written in the eleventh century, to a wicked man of Kent. 4 





The story appears to be invented to explain a place-name Punores hlaw. 
Its chief interest lies in the fact that a man, said in some sources to be a 
King’s counsellor, is called by the name of the god. This suggests that 
the author had forgotten that there ever was a god Thunor, for 
men do not usually bear the names of gods. 

It will be noticed that in the later compound names there is some 
alternation between the forms Punres- and Pures -, as in Punresdteg and 
Puresdag (Thursday) . The forms without -n- might be influenced by 
Scandinavian ones, but this is not certain because n was regularly lost 
before r in later West Saxon. 5 

It is not doubted that the thunder-god was also worshipped in Ger- 
many, although the evidence there is even poorer than it is in England. 
In a manuscript of the ninth century in the Old Saxon dialect a bap- 
tismal vow is preserved. 6 It was plainly drawn up, probably in the 
eighth century, for men newly converted from heathendom ; the postu- 
lant is made to name his favourite gods and renounce them. He says : 

end ec forsacho allum dioboles 
uuercum and uuordum, Thunaer ende 
UUoden ende Saxnote ende allum 
them unholdum the hira genotas 

I renounce all the words and 
works of the devil, Thunaer, 
Woden and Saxnot, and all 
those demons who are their 

Since Thunaer is here named first of the gods, it is likely that the 
Saxons of this age regarded him as the foremost. Saxnot remains a 
riddle. Since he is named together with Thunaer and Woden, he must 
have been an important god. He must also have been known in Eng- 
land for the genealogies of the East Saxon kings are traced to a Seaxnet , 7 
Seaxnet does not appear in the other royal genealogies, which shows 
that the kings of Essex were believed to descend from a divine ancestor 
who was not the parent of other dynasties. 8 Saxnot has often been iden- 
tified with Tyr, but chiefly because he is named together with two other 
great Germanic gods. Probably he was conceived originally as the 
eponymous god of the Saxons, whether his name meant ‘companion of 
the sword 5 or ‘friend of the Saxons’. 9 If Saxnot is to be fitted into the 
Indo-European tripartite system, he is better associated with NjorS, or 
with Freyr who, under the name Yngvi-Freyr, was the ancestor of the 
Ynglingar, the ruling house of the Swedes. 

A clasp found at Nordendorf in Bavaria, and said to date from the 
seventh century, bears a cryptic inscription in runes. Among the forms 
read on it are Logapore, Wo dan, Wigiponar (or Wiguponar) . 10 The first of 
these will be mentioned in a later chapter (see Ch. V) ; in the second 
we may see the name of Woden (Odinn), and in the third that of Thunar 

(Thor) combined with another word or compound element. The read- 
ing of the fourth rune in this last group has been disputed, but most have 
read it as i rather than u. 11 If the form Wigiponar is correct, it naturally 
leads us to think of the formula in the Danish inscriptions of .the tenth 
century pur uiki . . . (may Thor hallow) . Wigi has been regarded as an 
imp. 2 sg. of the verb which appears in Gothic as weikan and in O.H.G. 
as wihen , related (by Verner’s Law) with O.N. vigja. The meaning of 
wigi Ponar would in this case be ‘hallow, Thor’, and the god would be 
called upon to hallow the clasp, or the runes, imparting his divine 
force. 12 But even if this reading is adopted, Wigiponar is still open to 
other interpretations. It has been read as a compound and associated 
with names for Thor recorded in Norse literary sources. In the Hymis- 
kvida , Thor is three times called Veurr, and the expression Midgards 
viur{r) in the Voluspd (str. 56) most probably applies to him. 

Formerly veurr was thought to. be a contracted form of vi-vqrbr 
(guardian of the holy place), or of vi-drr (servant of the holy place). 
Whatever the second element in veurr may be, the first can be no other 
than vi (holy or sanctified place), and it is thus related to the verb 
vigja (to hallow). This element appears also in other names for Thor, 
e.g. Hardveurr and perhaps Vipormr. 

Wigiponar of the Nordendorf inscription has also been associated with 
another group of names applied to Thor, Vingnir and Vingporr . 13 If this 
is correct, the first element in all of these names would seem to mean 
‘hallowing-’. It must, however, be admitted that the philological argu- 
ments which have led to the close association of the elements wigi- (or 
wigu-), vi- and ving- are hypothetical and tenuous. It remains probable 
that in the expressions Wigiponar and viurr , Thor is thought of as the 
hallower. The compound element ving- cannot yet be explained. 14 

In many parts of Germany, place-names containing the element 
Bonner - have been recorded, and those in the form Bonnersberg (older 
Thoneresberg, Thuneresberg, etc) are particularly widespread. 15 Most of 
these are probably named after the god, rather than after thunder, and 
they so closely resemble Scandinavian place-names of the type Porsberg , 
Porsass that they suggest that Thor, like some other gods, was wor- 
shipped on hills and rocks. 

English and Norse writers of the Middle Ages commonly identified 
Thor with Jupiter, 16 and the similarity between the two was empha- 
sized by Adam of Bremen (see above p. 93), who saw Thdr’s hammer, 
or perhaps his club, as Jupiter’s sceptre. 

The identification of Jupiter with Th6r is older and deeper than this. 
When Germanic names were given to days of the week, probably in the 
third century, Bies Jovis became ‘Thor’s Day’ (O.E. Punresdteg, O.N. 



MYTH AND RELIGION OF THE NORTH The question remains why, in pre-Christian as well as in 
Christian times, Thor and Jupiter were thought to be the same. 

The answer is probably to be found in the Celtic world. As re- 
marked, there was perhaps a Celtic god of lightning called *Meldos. 
There are also records of another god worshipped in Gaul, whose name 
is given as Taranis and, apparently, in various forms such as Taranucus , 
Taranucnus. 17 

The name Taranis can hardly be dissociated from the Welsh word 
taran (/. thunder) and the Irish torann ( m . loud noise, thunder). Taranis 
is named together with two other Gallic gods by Lucan, by whom he is 
compared with Diana, and perhaps thought of as female. Later writers 
occasionally identified Taranis with Dis Pater, but more regularly with 
Jupiter. The reason can only be that Jupiter, the sky-god, was also god 
of thunder and lightning ; he was f ulgur, fulmen , tonans , tonitrator. 

A votive stone of the mid-second century, found at Chester, contains 
the interesting inscription 1 0 M ( Jovi optimo maxima ) Tanaro. Tanarus 
is presumably the same as Taranis, but the variation is difficult to ex- 
plain. 18 While Taranis is to be associated with words for thunder, Tana- 
rus corresponds philologically remarkably closely with Germanic 
names for the thunder-god : Parr, Punor. It can only be because of their 
association with thunder and lightning that Taranis (Tanarus) and 
Thor were both identified with Jupiter. 

It has been suggested that the Germanic thunder-god, Thor, was, in 
fact borrowed from the Celtic figure. 18 This would be easier to believe 
if there were evidence that Taranis was an important god, enjoying 
widespread worship among the Celts. There is no evidence of this. 20 

Although Thor was identified with Jupiter, it is possible that some 
thought of him rather as Hercules. Tacitus (Germ. Ill) said that the 
Germans believed that Hercules had once been among them and, 
advancing into battle, they sang his praises as the first of strong men 
(primumque omnium virorum fortium). Phrases like these do not prove that 
Hercules was a Germanic god ; he might equally well have been a tra- 
ditional hero of the type of Sigurd, or even Arminius. But in another 
passage (Annals II, 12), Tacitus shows that there was, indeed, a Ger- 
manic god whom the Romans called Hercules. He mentions a ‘sacred 
forest of Hercules’ (silva Herculi sacra) in the region of the Weser, a 
meeting place of various tribes. This forest of Hercules calls to mind the 
Old English Punresleah , the Old Norse Porslundr as well as the Irish coill 
Tomair , all of which mean ‘grove of Thor’. 

In yet another passage (Germ. XXXIV), Tacitus mentioned some 
‘pillars of Hercules’ (Herculis columnas) . This has led many to suppose 
that Hercules was the same as Irmin, god of the Saxon pillar Irminsul, 



which seemed to uphold the world. 21 But the name Thurstable in Essex 
seems originally to have meant ‘Thor’s Pillar’ (see above p. 99), and, 
as was shown above, Thor was the god of the gndvegissulur, the main 
supporting pillars of the house. 

From this it seems likely that Hercules, with his supernatural 
strength and his club, was sometimes identified with Th6r. 

The name Hercules appears many times in inscriptions found in 
Germanic areas, mostly of the third century. These include Hercules 
Barbatus , Hercules Saxanus and Hercules Magusanus. There is no strong 
reason to identify the bearded Hercules with Thor, because many 
gods must have had beards. Hercules Saxanus, whose name appears in 
a great number of inscriptions, appears to be the protector of the 
quarrymen. Hercules Magasanus, whose votive-stones are concentrated 
on the Lower Rhine, has stronger claims to Germanic godhead, although 
all attempts to explain his nickname have been unconvincing. 22 


In the preface to the second edition of his Teutonic Mythology , written in 
1844, J. Grimm said : ‘Indra is akin to Donar (Th6r), being the wielder 
of lightning, and the ruler of air and winds, so that as god of the sky he 
can be compared with Zio’. 1 

The similarity between Thor and Indra is so remarkable that many 
have gone further than Grimm did, believing that, in origin, the two 
gods were one and the same. This opinion was carried far by V. Ryd- 
berg, 2 whose views were extreme and, therefore, won less recognition 
than they deserved. The theory has been developed subtly by F. R. 
Schroeder 3 in a particularly informative paper. 

G. Dumezil has emphasized the similarities between Thor and Indra 
in many works. 4 His analysis accords with his general conceptions of a 
common Indo-European religion. In his view, the Indo-European gods 
fall into three classes. The first class is represented by two aspects. On 
the one hand stands the furious, magical sovereign, represented by 
Odinn and Varuna. On the other hand stand the more congenial gods 
of law and justice, Tyr and Mitra. The third class is represented by gods 
of riches and fertility, the Vanir 5 in the north, and the Asvin (Nasatya) A s v/ity 
in India. 

The second class is composed of warrior-gods, such as Thor and In- 
dra. I have not the equipment to criticize this theory of a tripartite 
Indo-European religion. Comparative scholars will discuss it for many 
generations to come. But even if we do not accept it, and doubt the 
stability of the tripartite system, we cannot fail to remark on some of the 
details in which Thor and Indra resemble each other. Whatever the 



explanation, it is hardly possible to believe that the resemblances are 
accidental. Reading a description of Indra, such as the recent one 
given by J. Gonda, 6 we could believe that we were reading a descrip- 
tion of Thor. 

In the first place, Indra was the slayer of the dragon Vritra, at whose 
death the waters were released. Dragon-slayers are, of course, common 
enough both in legend and myth. It is they who overcome evil forces, 
and especially the forces of primeval chaos. 7 

Like Thor, Indra is a warrior-god ; he defends others, slaying demons 
of drought and darkness. Indra is also god of thunder, and his weapon, 
vajra is interpreted as the lightning or thunderbolt. 8 

According to Snorri, 9 Thor’s hammer, Mjollnir, was forged by a 
u dwarf, or dark elf, Sindri, who also made other treasures for the gods. 

Mt-dy^ Indra’s vajra was fashioned by Tvastr. Tvastr is an obscure figure, but 

he is remembered as a craftsman who made treasures for gods. 

Thbr is the son of Odinn and of the earth-goddess, Jord. Strange 
stories are told of Indra’s birth, but he is said to be the son of Dyaus, the 
sky-god, and apparently of his consort, the earth. He is created by 
heaven and earth. 10 

The Norse god, like the Indian, was an enormous eater and drinker. 
On one occasion Th6r devoured two oxen and, on another, a whole ox, 
eight salmon and enormous measures of mead. 11 When he was fooled 
in the house of GtgarSaloki, Thor drank the seas shallow. 12 Indra had 
an even greater appetite; he ate three hundred buffaloes and drank 
sJma. three lakes of soma. 13 

Indra and Thor are bold and brave, but they also have cunning, and 
certain affinities with Odinn. Indra takes many forms; he turns into a 
horse-hair, a bird of prey, 14 and even a woman. Thor was the deep 
thinker (djuphugadr) , and he also took the form of a woman when he 
went to the Giant World to recover his hammer. The manly qualities 
of these two gods are not inconsistent with those of the hermaphrodite. 

Indra and Thdr go on long journeys in pursuit of demons ; both of 
them cross mighty torrents and are battered by storms and hail. They 
travel mostly in chariots ; Indra’s chariot is drawn by horses, generally 
two. 15 Thdr’s chariot was drawn by two goats, beasts hardly suitable 
for carrying a warrior-god. It is remarkable that the Indian Pusan also 
rode in a chariot drawn by goats, and the goat was especially sacred to 
him, as it was, apparently, to Thor. Pusan’s origin is obscure, but he 
hardly appears except as the companion, almost the doublet of Indra. 16 

There are as many differences between Indra and Thor as there are 
between India and Iceland, but more points of similarity could be 



The major correspondences may count for little, but the minor 
details are more telling. If it is hard to believe that the two figures de- 
veloped independently, it is almost to admit that they descend from a 
common original and they must, in this case, be part of an Indo- 
European heritage. 




The West Norse Sources — Saxo — The Character of Baldr and his Cult — 
Continental and English Tradition 

The West Norse Sources 

The god Baldr takes a prominent place in the literary sources, but 
their inconsistency is so great that we are left, not with one, but with 
differing pictures of this god. He is the son of CSinn and Frigg , 1 and 
the most detailed account of him is that given by Snorri, who has 
nothing but good to say of him. Baldr is beautiful to look at, and so 
bright that light shines from him. There is a flower so white, the ox- 
eye daisy, or matricary, that its petals are likened to Baldr’ s eyelashes 
(or eyelids) and it is called Baldr sbrd . 2 Baldr is the wisest of the JEsir, 
fairest of speech and most gentle, but yet his judgment never holds. 
His home is Breidablik (Broad Splendour) in the sky and nothing un- 
clean may be there. He has a wife Nanna Nepsdottir, and a son Forseti . 3 

This description of Baldr’s appearance and character would have 
little interest were it not for the story of his death, to which allusion is 
made frequently by northern writers. When he related it in close detail, 
Snorri wrote one of his finest passages . 4 His story may be summarized : 

Baldr had dreams in which his life was threatened. When he told the other 
gods about them, they resolved that oaths should be demanded of all objects 
to spare their favourite. Baldr’s mother, Frigg, received these oaths, sworn by 
fire and water, metals, stones, trees, sicknesses, beasts, birds, serpents. 

After this, Baldr used to entertain the gods by standing in the meeting 
places, while the others shot shafts, pelted him with stones and struck at him, 
knowing that no harm would come to him. 

But when the evil Loki saw this, he was filled with spite. He took the form 
of a woman and went to Frigg, who unsuspectingly told him that there was 
a slender shoot, called Mistletoe ( Mistilteinn ), growing to the west of Valholl, 
from which she had demanded no oath, thinking that it was too young. 

Loki tore up the mistletoe and carried it to the meeting place, where he 
found the god Ho3 standing outside the ring and taking no part in the sport 
because he was blind and had no missile. Loki put the mistletoe into the 
hands of Hod and directed his aim, and the shaft pierced the body of Baldr, 
who fell dead to the ground. This, it was said, was the greatest tragedy which 


had ever befallen gods or men. No vengeance could be taken on the spot, for 
the place was a sacred one (gridastaSr), and so shocked were the gods that 
they could not speak. 

When the gods recovered their senses, Frigg promised her love to anyone 
who would undertake a journey to the world of the dead, and offer the death- 
goddess, Hel, a ransom if she would release Baldr. Herm66 the Valiant, a 
little-known son of Odinn, responded. He mounted Cdinn’s horse and gal- 
loped away. 

Meanwhile the gods took the body of Baldr to the seashore, intending to 
place it on his mighty ship, Hringhorni, and to cremate it on board. But 
since the gods could not launch the ship they sent to the Giant World 
{Jqtunheimar) for the giantess, Hyrrokin, who came riding a wolf, using a 
serpent for reins. The giantess launched the ship at the first push ; flames shot 
from the rollers and all the world trembled. Th6r, seeing his old enemy, the 
giantess, was so enraged that he gripped his hammer and would have 
crushed her skull, had not the gods interceded. 

When the body of Baldr was carried on board, his wife, Nanna, died of 
grief and she was laid beside him. Th6r, meanwhile, hallowed the pyre with 
his hammer and, still enraged, he kicked a little dwarf, Litr, into the fire. 

Snorri describes those who attended the funeral of Baldr. Odinn was there 
with Frigg and his valkyries and ravens. Freyr drove in a chariot drawn by 
his boar, Gullinbursti or Slibrugtanni ; Heimdall rode his horse, Gulltopr ; 
Freyja drove her cats and a great crowd of frost-giants and rock-giants was 
present. As a parting gift, Odinn placed on the pyre the sacred arm-ring, 
Draupnir, from which eight rings of equal weight dripped every ninth night. 
Finally, Baldr’s horse was led to the pyre with all his harness. 

Snorri then returns to the story of Hermod, who rode for nine nights 
through dark, deep dales, until he reached the resounding river, Gjoll. The 
maiden, Mddgudr, guarding the bridge over this river, questioned him, re- 
marking that he had not the look of a dead man. She told him that Baldr 
had passed that way, and that the road to the world of death lay downward 
and northward. 

Hermdd rode on until he came to the gates of Hel ; he pricked his horse 
and cleared it. He entered the hall of death, where he found his brother, 
Baldr, in the seat of honour. 

Next morning Hermod asked Hel to allow Baldr to ride home with him, 
and told her of the grief of the gods. Hel laid down her terms. If everything, 
animate and inanimate, would weep for Baldr, then he might go back to the 
gods, but if anyone refused to weep, then Baldr must stay with Hel. 

Hermod left the house of the dead, bearing gifts which Baldr and Nanna 
sent to the gods and goddesses. When he returned to Asgard, Herm65 told 
all that he had seen and heard. The gods sent messengers to demand of all 
things, even trees and metals, that they should ‘weep Baldr from Hel’. 

When they thought that that had completed their errand, the messengers 
came upon an old giantess (gygr) in a cave. She called herself Thokk, and 
when they asked her to weep, she answered : 





X>Qkk mun grdta 
Jjurrum t&rum 
Baldrs b&lfarar ; 
kyks n6 dauds 
nautkak Karls sonar, 
haldi Hel J>vi er hefr. 

Thokk will weep 
with dry tears 
for the funeral of Baldr ; 
alive or dead 

I cared nothing for the Old Man’s son. 
May Hel keep what she has. 

Snorri adds a detailed story of the punishment of Loki, although he 
says nothing of vengeance taken against Hod. 

While all have admired the structure and the style in which Snorri 
tells this story, its origins, provenance, and even its authenticity have 
been hotly disputed. Problems of this kind may gradually become 
clearer when we consider other vernacular sources in which Baldr is 
mentioned. Those in prose, with one exception, are of little importance, 
but Baldr is also mentioned in Eddaic lays and in some of the works of 

We may consider first extant poetic works which Snorri must have 
known. After he had described Baldr’s character, Snorri quoted the 
Gnmnismdl (str. 12), which probably dates from the tenth century. Here 
it was told that Breidablik was the name of the place where Baldr had 
built his hall, standing in a land where evil (feiknsiafir) 5 was hardly 
known. At least, this shows that Snorri followed an established tradi- 
tion, when he described Baldr’s spotless character, although the 
Grimnismdl does not account for Snorri’s comparison of Baldr with the 
ox-eye daisy or some similar flower. 

As already remarked, Snorri .drew the outline of the Gylfaginning 
largely from the Vqluspd. In that poem (strs. 31-5), the slaughter of Baldr 
was described, although somewhat allusively. The sibyl said that she 
had seen the fate in store for Baldr, the blood-stained god [blob gum tivur ) 6 . 
She had seen a mistletoe, slender and very beautiful, towering above the 
plains. From this slender shoot, a vicious shaft had been made, and shot 
by Hod. Very soon afterwards a son was born to Odinn, who neither 
washed his hands nor combed his hair until he had brought Baldr’s 
enemy (i.e. Hod) to the funeral pyre. Frigg wept for the sorrows of Val- 
holl. The sibyl had also seen a form, like to that of Loki, in the grove 
of springs and Sigyn, wife of Loki, sorrowing over him. 

The lines last quoted show that Snorri was following an established 
tradition when he said that Baldr was slain by the mistletoe and, 
strangely enough, that according to this tradition, the mistletoe was a 
slender shrub. As Snorri said, Loki tore it up {sleit upp). This implies 
that the tradition reached its final form in a land where the mistletoe 
was not known, in Iceland or perhaps in western Norway. The allusion 
to the punishment of Loki in the Vqluspa (35) shows that, in spite of the 


arguments of E. Mogk, 7 not only Snorri, but also the author of the 
Vqluspd believed that Loki took some part in the murder of Baldr, 
although the shaft was shot by Hod. This tradition is confirmed by the 
words which Loki is said, in the Lokasenna (str. 28), to have spoken to 

ek red, I was the cause 

er ^u rida serat that never again 

sidan Baldr at solum. will you see Baldr ride to your hall. 

In another passage 8 Snorri mentions a kenning for Loki: rddbani 
Baldrs (contriver of Baldr’s death) . 

Among the most interesting poetic records of Baldr is the Husdrdpa 
(House-Lay), composed by the Icelandic poet XJlf Uggason about 983. 
The verses are recorded by Snorri in the Skaldskaparmal , 9 and the cir- 
cumstances under which they were composed are described in the 
Laxdcela Saga (Ch. XXIX). Olaf the Peacock had built a splendid house 
in western Iceland, and scenes from the lives of the gods were carved on 
the timbers with such skill that the hall looked better when the tapes- 
tries were down than when they were up. After the work was finished, 
Ulf made a poem about the mythical scenes carved in relief. On one 
panel the funeral of Baldr could be seen. Freyr was mounted on his 
golden-bristled boar, and Odinn was riding to the pyre accompanied 
by his ravens and valkyries. Heimdall was also mounted, and the 
mighty goddess of the mountains (i.e. giantess) could be seen launching 
the sea-horse (ship), while Odinn’s warriors felled her mount. 

In spite of minor differences, the Husdrdpa must have provided Snorri 
with much of the material for the scene which he describes so vividly. 
His description is richer than that preserved in the Husdrdpa but he 
probably knew more strophes of the poem than the few recorded. 

The anonymous poem Baldrs Draumar (The Dreams of Baldr), 10 
preserved only in a manuscript of the fourteenth century, may also have 
been known to Snorri, but he makes little use of it. The Baldrs Draumar 
is closely related to the Vqluspd, and, whichever influenced the other, 
the two poems are probably of comparable age. The Baldrs Draumar 
tells how the gods and goddesses met in council after Baldr had dreamed 
his foreboding dreams. Odinn saddled his horse and rode down to the 
gates of the Misty Hel (. Niflheimr ). Using his powers of necromancy, he 
dragged a sibyl, dead for centuries, from her grave. Under the false 
name Vegtamr (Travel- tame), he forced the sibyl to answer his ques- 
tions. Why were the benches in the hall of death strewn with rings and 
gold? It was for Baldr that the mead had been brewed and the feast 
prepared. It was Hod who would bring Baldr to his death, and he 



| would be avenged by Vali, 11 to be born to Obinn by Rind. Vali would 

fight when one day old, and would never wash his hands nor comb his 
hair until he had brought Baldr’s enemy to the pyre. 

Finally, on this as on other occasions, Obinn asked an unanswerable, 
as indeed incomprehensible question, and thus disclosed his identity. 
The sibyl told him to make off, saying that Loki had broken his chains 
and the Ragnarok was at hand. 

In the Baldrs Draumar it is not told that Loki contrived Baldr’s death, 
although the last strophe has been taken to imply that the thought was 
not far from the poet’s mind. If so, this poet’s thoughts were ill con- 
sistent with those expressed by Snorri and in the Vqluspa for, according 
to these, it was not until after the death of Baldr that Loki was bound 
in chains. It is possible that the poet of the Baldrs Draumar was following 
another tradition, according to which Hob alone caused the death of 

Not everything which Snorri tells about Baldr’s death can be traced 
to extant poetry, nor can the remainder be traced only to vague ‘tradi- 
tion’. Snorri also drew on poems unknown to us. Among these was a 
lay in which the descent of Hermob to the world of death and his 
attempts to ransom Baldr were described. The poedc form shines 
through Snorri’s prose, and the alliteration is apparent in phrase after 
phrase, to quote but one : 

han reib niu naetr dokkva dali ok djupa 

(he rode for nine nights through dark dales and deep). 

There was perhaps another lay, which told in closer detail than the 
Vgluspdy how the shaft was hurled at Baldr and the gods dumbfounded 
at his death. 12 

Several poets, other than those mentioned, allude to the myth of 
Baldr and his death. They may not add much to the traditions already 
cited, but they help to show how old these traditions were. The Skimis- 
mdl (21-2), which incorporates material of some antiquity, mentions 
the ring ( Draupnir ), which was burned on the pyre of Baldr. In the 
Vafprudnismdl (54), Obinn, pitting his wits against those of the giant, 
Vafthrudnir,finalIydiscloseshis identity with the unanswerable question : 

hvat mselti Obinn what did Obinn whisper 

&br i b&l stigi before he climbed on the pyre 

sj&lfr 1 eyra syni? into the ear of his son? 13 

It was said in the Baldrs Draumar (str. 11) that a woman called Rind 
( Rindr ) would bear Vali, the son of Obinn, who would take vengeance 



on Hob. This does not appear in Snorri’s chapter on Baldr’s death, and 
Snorri tells of no vengeance taken on Hob. But the tradition embodied 
in the Baldrs Draumar was old and widespread and was known to 
Snorri. He gives several scaldic kennings in which it is implied, and he 
quotes the words of the poet Kormak (died c. 970) : seid Tggr til Rindar 
(Obinn won Rind by magic) . 

So far, Baldr has appeared as the perfect, spotless god, an ethereal, 
if less active Sigurb, suffering for the sins of others. Interest is chiefly 
in the story of his death, but it would be too much to believe that Baldr 
had gone for ever. If Hermob had failed to bring Baldr back from the 
world of the dead, he would come back in the end. In the Vgluspd 
(str. 62), it is said that after the fire and floods of Ragnarok Baldr will 
return. He and his innocent slayer, Hob, will dwell together, all evil 
will pass and unsown cornfields will bear fruit. 

This section of the Vqluspd is strongly influenced by Christian eschato- 
logy and symbolism, but the dim hope that the beloved god would one 
day return did not derive from Christianity alone. After the death of 
Eirik Blood-axe, about the middle of the tenth century, his widow 
commissioned a memorial lay, in which the poet described how Obinn 
and his warriors welcomed Eirik in Valholl. As the dead king ap- 
proached, the benches creaked, as they would if Baldr were returning, 14 

According to Snorri, all things, animate and inanimate, wept for 
Baldr except the giantess Thokk (Loki), and he quoted a strophe which 
confirms the ogress’s recalcitrance. The early sources known to us have 
little to say about the weeping of nature for the beloved god. The 
Voluspd (33) mentions only the weeping of Baldr’s mother, Frigg, and 
some have seen an allusion to the weeping waves of the sea, the ‘daughters 
of vEgir’ in the obscure strophe of the Baldrs Draumar (12). 15 But the 
story of the weeping nature was well known before Snorri wrote of it, 
and was popular enough to be the subject of a cruel joke. 

In the year 1196, Thormob, a delinquent guilty of trickery in the 
sheepfolds, ‘offered his head’ 16 to the chieftain whom he had offended. 
The chieftain told him to do what he liked with his head, but an ob- 
server made the following verse : 

All things wept 
Baldr out of Hel 
— I’ve heard of that 
and a wonder it was. 

But yet Thormbb, 
bringing his head, 
howled louder still. 

There’s no lie in that. 17 

Hvatvetna gret 
— hefk Jjat fregit ; 
bysn jpbtti fiat — 
Baldr 6r helju. 
h <3 hefr hsera, 
p&s hQfub foerbi, 
]> 6 rm 69 r hotit. 
fiat’s ologit. 



Vernacular sources have little more to tell of Baldr, but when we turn 
to the Danish historian, Saxo Grammaticus, who wrote his Gesta Dano- 
rum about 1200, we find a very different Baldr, and read a very dif- 
ferent story about him . 1 

Saxo has euphemerized the story more thoroughly than Snorri did, 
and it takes place, not in Asgard, but on earth, chiefly in Denmark and 

For Saxo Hod (Hotherus) has no claims to godhead, and Baldr 
(Balderus), although son of Odinn, was described as a demigod (semi- 
deus). In no section of his work does Saxo express his contempt for 
heathen gods with greater virulence than he does in this one. In fact, 
they are not gods : deos autem pocius opinatiue, quarn naturaliter dicimus. 
Talibus namque non natura, sed gencium more, diuinitatis uocabulum damus 
( 111 , 73 - 4 ). . 

While lacking the tragic dignity of Snorri’s story, Saxo’s is sensa- 
tional and blood-curdling, and sometimes fails in consistency. 

Hod was the son of Hodbrodd, a King of Sweden, and brother of Athisl 
(ON. Adils, OE. Eadgils ) . After the death of his father Hod was brought up 
by Gevar in Norway. He was early distinguished for his skill in sports, and 
especially on the harp. By the power of his music he could turn men’s minds 
and, with it, he quickened love in the heart of Nanna, the daughter of 

Nanna was beautiful, and when Baldr saw her bathing, he was inflamed 
with lust, and resolved to kill his rival Hod. 

One day when Hod was hunting, he lost his way in a fog, and came to a 
hut in which he found some forest maidens. They declared that it was chiefly 
they who decided the fortunes of war, and that they took part unseen in 
battle. They told Hod of the intentions of Baldr, but warned him not to 
attack, hateful though Baldr was, since he Was a demigod. The house and 
the maids vanished, and Hod was left alone on an open field. 

When Hod returned to his foster-father, Gevar, he sued for the hand of 
Nanna, but Gevar dare not give her for fear of Baldr. Instead he told Hod of 
a sword, capable of killing Baldr, and of an arm-ring, which would bring 
wealth to its owner. These treasures were in the hands of Miming, a satyr 
dwelling in a distant, frozen region. 

Hod set off on the long journey and, by a ruse, he got the satyr in his 
power and seized the treasures from him. 

Some adventures followed, which have little to do with the main theme. 
For a second time Hod went to the far north and, while he was away, Baldr 
came and demanded Nanna from Gevar. The decision was left to the girl, 
and she subtly refused Baldr on the grounds that he was a god, and their 
natures would be incompatible. 



Enraged by Baldr’s insolence, Hod and his allies joined battle with him, 
evidently in Denmark. Odinn and all the gods fought on the side of Baldr, 
and Thor was in the forefront, striking with his club. Victory would have 
gone to the gods, had not Hod struck off the head of Thor’s club. Then all 
the gods took to an ignoble flight, and Hod was free to marry Nanna. He 
took her to Sweden, where the people honoured him, while Baldr was held 
up to ridicule. 

Soon afterwards, fortunes changed and Baldr won a victory over Hod in 
Denmark. His victory did Baldr little good, for now he began to be troubled 
by nightly visions of Nanna. His health declined, and he grew so weak that 
he had to be carried in a chariot. 

For a time, the fortunes of war alternated, until Baldr won another victory 
over Hod, who left the field as a fugitive. Wandering alone through forests of 
Sweden, he came upon the same maidens whom he had met before. This 
time they told him that he would overcome his enemy if only he would taste 
of the magic food which sustained the strength of Baldr. Again the two 
parties joined battle and, after great slaughter on both sides, they retired for 
the night. 

At the dead of night, Hod spied three maidens carrying the magical food. 
He pursued them to their dwelling and, making out that he was a minstrel, 
entertained them with his music. They were preparing the food of Baldr 
with the venom of three serpents. In spite of textual difficulties, it seems that 
Hod induced them to let him taste it, and they gave him a girdle of victory. 

On his way back, Hod met his old enemy, and pierced him with his sword. 
Baldr fell to the ground mortally wounded, but was able to renew the battle 
next day, carried on a litter. On the following night he had a vision, or a 
dream, in which the goddess Proserpine promised her embraces. After three 
days Baldr was dead, and after a royal funeral, his body was laid in a 

Odinn now plotted revenge. He sought the help of a Lappish wizard Rostio- 
phus (ON. Hrosspjdfr?), who told him that the avenger must be born to him 
by Rinda (ON. Rindr ) daughter of the King of the Ruthenians (Russians). 
Odinn, assuming various disguises, took service with that King. The maid 
rejected his advances, until disguised as a woman, Odinn became her ser- 
vant and raped her . 3 

Bous, the son of Rinda and Odinn, met Hod in battle and slew him, while 
receiving a mortal wound himself. 

In outline, Saxo’s story resembles that told by Snorri and alluded to 
by the West Norse poets. According to Saxo, as in Snorri’s story, Baldr 
was struck down by Hod. As mentioned in the Husdr&pa and again in 
Snorri’s story, Baldr was given a splendid funeral. Saxo agrees with 
the Baldr s Draumar that Odinn begat a son by Rindr, who avenged 

But the differences between Saxo’s account, and that given in the 



West Norse sources leap to the eye, and it is not necessary to consider 
all of them in detail. 

In the first place, it is noticeable that, according to Saxo, Ho5 alone 
was the slayer of Baldr, and no room was left for Loki. 4 This may have 
been what the author of the Baldrs Draumar thought, but Saxo’s dif- 
ferences from the West Norse sources are deeper than this. The posi- 
tions of Hod and Baldr are nearly reversed, for Nanna, according to 
Saxo, is the devoted wife of Ho5, not of Baldr. 

For Saxo Baldr is not the passive, suffering god ; he is a lustful bully, 
and only Ho5 displays any moral virtues. Baldr is the son of 6 Sinn 
and a demigod, but Ho5 is not his brother; he is the brother of A6ils of 
Sweden, and is thus drawn into a genealogy which is largely historical. 5 

Baldr was not, according to Saxo, killed by the mistletoe, but by a 
magic sword, seized from a satyr in the frozen north. 

West Norse poets say that 6 Sinn’s son, who avenged Baldr, was 
called Vdli, but Saxo calls him Bous, and Saxo adds a wealth of detail 
about his conception not given by the West Norse poets. 

In Saxo’s account there is a mystico-magical element not to be found 
in the Icelandic sources. Ho5 owes his victory much to the forest 
maidens, who must be valkyries, since they take part unseen in battle. 

Every reader must wonder what were the sources of Saxo’s story, and 
whether he presents the Baldr myth in a more or less archaic form than 
the West Norse authorities. 

It has often been said that Saxo followed an Icelandic tradition, an 
oral Hadar Saga (Saga of Ho3). 6 Although, as he says himself, Saxo used 
Icelandic sources, it is difficult to believe that he could have derived the 
picture which he draws of Baldr from them. Baldr could not have lived 
in such different guises in the small Icelandic community. It is more 
likely that Saxo was largely following Danish or eastern traditions 
about Baldr, while Snorri derived his version of the myth from the Ice- 
landic and West Norwegian poets. Saxo repeatedly refers to places in 
Denmark, and once in Norway, with which traditions about Baldr were 
associated. He tells how, after a victory over Ho3, Baldr drove his 
sword into the earth and uncovered a fresh spripg for his thirsty 
soldiers. He adds that these springs had not yet dried up, and that the 
story was preserved in the name of the place (Eorundem uestigia sempi- 
temo jirmata uocabulo) . Saxo was probably referring to Baldersbronde, 
near to Roskilde. This name, from an earlier Baldorpsbrsnde 1 is unlikely 
to contain the name of the god, but Saxo must have followed a folk- 
etymology, showing that Baldr lived in the Danish traditions of his 
time. Saxo also mentions a village in Jutland in which Ho3 stayed, and 
gave his name to it. He may mean Horsens, or more probably Hojer 



(earlier Hathcer) . Saxo also tells of men of his own day who had raided 
a burial mound, believed to be that of Baldr, in the hope of finding 

Whatever his ultimate sources, Saxo does not present the story of 
Baldr in archaic form. It is enriched with many wandering medieval 
motives, such as the bewitching harp and the druidical mist. 

In spite of this, .Saxo may well preserve ancient elements not to be 
found in the western sources. It may well be that Baldr was not, in the 
beginning, the passive, suffering god, but was a doughty warrior. This 
is perhaps implied in the kennings for ‘warrior’ such as West Norse 
poets frequently use, e.g. sdrlinns Baldr (Baldr of the wound-snake, sword), 
skjaldar Baldr (Baldr of the shield), atgeirs Baldr (Baldr of the spear), 
although the names of most gods, even if they are not especially war- 
like, can be combined by poets with those of weapons to mean ‘warrior’, 
‘man’. 8 Ho3 need not, in the first place, have been the pathetic, blind 
instrument of evil. His name means ‘warlike’, and appears also to be 
used in kennings for ‘warrior’. 9 In fact, it may be suggested that Ho3 
was not, in the first place, a separate god, but that his name was one of 
the many used for OQinn. From this could arise the myth that he was 
blind. One of OSinn’s names was Tvxblindi (Blind in Both Eyes). 

Saxo mentions meetings between Ho3 and the maidens of the forest, 
who must be valkyries. They gave him a corselet, a girdle, and told 
him how to win his ultimate victory. The valkyries are the warrior 
maidens of Odinn. Besides this, Nanna , the name of Hod’s (or Baldr’s) 
wife, is a valkyrie name, 10 and it probably had a similar meaning to 
that of Hod, ‘warlike’ , u 

It may not be extravagant to suppose that there was yet another 
version of the story, in which the blind or half-blind C3inn contrived 
the death of his own son. If so, Odinn was inspired by the same motive 
which guided him on many other occasions. He needed his son Baldr 
to join him in his Kingdom, just as he needed his favourites Sigmund, 
Harald Wartooth, Eirik Bloodaxe and others. 12 

Loki is excluded from Saxo’s story of Baldr’s death. It is not possible 
to decide whether he figured in the myth in its original form, 13 although 
West Norse poets also suggested that there was an early version of the 
story in which he took no part. 

Contradicting Snorri and the Voluspd, Saxo says that Baldr was killed 
by a magic sword, and not by a mistletoe. In this, priority must be given 
to the West Norse tradition. The sword with which, according to Saxo, 
Baldr was killed, was found far away in the north, while the mistletoe 
grew to the west of Valholl, beyond the world known to gods or men. 14 
It is not necessary to emphasize the veneration in which the mistletoe 

ir 5 


was held among many peoples, and not least among the Gauls and 
others of western Europe . 15 The reasons for such veneration could not 
profitably be discussed in a book of this kind, but like the Yggdrasill 
and the tree venerated in Uppsala (see Ch. XII), the mistletoe is ever- 
green. Like the Yggdrasill, it grows from unknown roots, and seems to 
triumph over death and even over fife. The Icelanders did not know this 
plant, and they could believe that a deadly shaft was made of it, but 
when the story was rationalized by Saxo or his authorities, the mistletoe 
had to be replaced by a sword. In certain romantic sagas, Mistilteinn 
(Mistletoe) is the name given to a sword, and it is listed in an early 
source as a poetic word for ‘sword ’. 16 In such cases, also, we may suspect 
that a myth has been rationalized. 

The Character of Baldr and his Cult 

Literary sources preserve myths of Baldr in a wealth of detail, but their 
authors have left no clear picture of him, or rather they have left two 
pictures hard to reconcile with each other. On the one hand stands 
Baldr, the passive, innocent martyr, but on the other he is a vigorous 
warrior, even though his motives may, on occasion, have been lustful 
rather than heroic. 

These sources tell little about a cult of Baldr. Only the Fridpjofs Saga 
(Ch. I) tells of a Baldrshagi (Baldr’s Meadow) in Sogn (Western Nor- 
way). This was a sanctuary and the site of a splendid temple, in which 
there were idols of many gods, although Baldr was venerated most of 
them all. The Fridbjofs Saga , probably written in the fourteenth century, 
is romantic and fictitious, and its description of the temple and sanctuary 
was perhaps influenced by some of those quoted in Ch. XII below. The 
story told in the saga may be based partly on place-names which, 
rightly or wrongly, were thought to contain the name of Baldr. Balders- 
groi , Baldersvold and Balderskagi are said to be recorded in the region of 
Sogn , 1 although their age and authenticity are questionable. 

Evidence of the cult of Baldr has been sought in place-names. In the 
districts of Eyjafjordr and Lingeyjarsysla, in northern Iceland, there are 
two places called Baldrsheimr (Baldr’s Home), and there is another 
place of the same name in Nordhordland, in Norway. This name may 
reflect Breidablik which, in the myth, was the home of Baldr. Such a 
name shows that the myth of Baldr was remembered, but it does not 
show that the places to which it was applied were centres of his cult. 

M. Olsen , 2 who has carefully studied place-names in which the 
element Baldr may be contained, attaches particular significance to 
Baldrsholl ( Balleshol ) in Hedemarken and Baldr sberg (Basberg) in Vest- 
fold. A Baldrsberg is also recorded in southern Sweden . 3 A few names, 



i. Scene from Rogaland in south-western Norway. In the foreground 
stands a memorial stone of the early eleventh century about two metres 
high. Many examples are found of memorial stones of this type. 

2, Helgafell (the Holy Hill) in western Iceland. It was revered as the 
dwelling place of departed ancestors. Sec Ch. XV. 

r r = 


;llir in south-western Iceland. The priest -chieftains would meet 
summer. Laws were made and judgments delivered. This view 
>m the meeting place. 

5. The great mounds at Uppsala, Sweden, in which kings were buried. 
They measure about 65 metres across. Uppsala was for long the chief city 
of Sweden and the site of the glorious temple described in Ch. XII. 

6. The church of Borgund in Sogn (western Norway). This is the most 
splendid of the stave- churches preserved, and dales from the twelfth 


. Head of man carved on the cart found in the famous Norwegian grave 
f Oseberg, of the ninth century. 

12. (top left) Image, probably of goddess, found in Jutland. Middle 
Bronze Age. Height 6-5 cm, 

13. (top right) This image, found at Rallinge, Sodermanland (Sweden), 
represents Freyr or another fertility god. It is reminiscent of the idol of 
Fricco (Freyr) in the temple of Uppsala, as described by Adam of Bremen. 
See Ch. XII. 

14. (bottom left) Miniature figure found at Baldrsheimr in northern Ice- 
land. This has commonly been regarded as the image of a god, but may be 
the “king” in the board-game Hneftajl. Height c. 4 cm. 

15. (bottom right) Bronze image found in northern Iceland, about actual 

1 6. (above) Silver image, prob- 
ably of Thor’s hammer, found in 
southern Iceland. It appears to be 
influenced by images of the Cross. 
Length about 5 cm. 

1 7 * (left) linage of I hors hammer in silver from Skane (Sweden) 
filigree ornament and embellished with a beaked head, at the loop 
piercing eyes attributed to the god Thor (see Ch. Ill, Thor’s H 
dales from about aii 1000. 

1 8. (right) Silver image ol the tenth century lbund in a grave 
Although a crucifix, this image bears some resemblance to those 
Height c. 4-7 cm. 

1 9. Animal head carved on bed- 
post in the ship-grave of Gokstad, 

20. (right) Animal head found in 
the mouth of the Scheldt. It bears 
some resemblance to the animal 
heads found at Oseberg (see Plates 
8-n), but Dr. D. M. Wilson of the 
British Museum kindly suggests 
that it belongs to an earlier period, 
perhaps the Migration Period. 


22. Carved stone from Hunnestad, 
Skane (Sweden). At the cremation 
of Baldr, as Snorri relates, a gian- 
tess arrived mounted on a wolf, 
using serpents for reins. A scene like 
this is depicted on the stone. See 
Ch. IV. 

23. Memorial stone of the late 
pagan period from Sonder-Kirke- 
by, Denmark. It contains the 
words : (may Thor hallow these 
runes’. Above is seen a ship 
equipped with shields. 

2 1 . (left) Rune-stone from Altuna, 
Uppland, Sweden. The lower part 
seems to show Thor with his ham- 
mer fishing for the World Serpent 
(see Ch. Ill, Thorand the Serpent). 
As in Snorri’s story, the bait is an 

orvf anorv and 

2A -Z-J. These plates show a selection of pictorial stones trom tne isianu oi 
Gotland. It is agreed that the pictures represent scenes from myth and legend, 
although they are difficult to interpret. The motives have been most thoroughly 
analysed by S. Lindquist, Gollauds Hildsteuie , I II, H)4‘ 2 - 

Ships and mounted warriors predominate. The mounted hgure armed with a 
spear (Plai6 25) might be Odinn with his spear Gungnir. 'I he mounted hgme on 
Plate 27 may again be Odinn on the eight-legged Sleipnir, unless the eight legs 
are intended to give the impression of speed. The ships may he bearing t ic 
dead to the Other World. The finest examples of Gotland picture stones date 
from the ninth century. 

29. (below left) Runc-stonc from Led berg, Ostergolland (Sweden), probably showing a 
scene from the Ragnarok (see Oh. XVI). The wolf, Fenrir, attacks the helmcted warrior, 
perhaps Odinn. Another warrior restrains the well. 

30. (below right) The stone found at Rok, Ostergolland (Sweden), dates from the ninth 
century and contains the richest of all runic inscriptions. It is partly in verse, and is thus 
an important record of pre-Christian literature. Some of the runes arc in cipher. Sec 


31. The tapestry here shown was reconstructed by Mary Storm from fragments found 
in the Oseberg grave. The horses and chariots, both symbols of death and rebirth, will 
be noticed, as well as swastikas and other mystic signs. The breadth is about 23 cms. See 
Bjorn Hougen in Viking, 1 940, 85 IT. 

32. Rune stone from Ramsundberget, Sodermanland (Sweden), of the eleventh century. 
Scenes from the life of Sigurd are depicted. He is killing the dragon, roasting his hear) 
and listening to the speech of birds. See Gh. X, Ermanaric, etc. 

35- The heart of Hogni is cut from his breast, as described in the Old 
Norse poem Allakvida. The picture is carved in wood in the church of 
Auslad (Setesdal), Norway. See Oh. X, Ermanaric. etc. 

33-4. (left) Wood-carvings from church of Hylestad, Setesdal (Norway), 
dating from the twelfth century. These show scenes from the life of Sigurd. 
See Oh. X, Krmanaric, etc. 

36. Panel from the cart in 
the Oseberg grave. Be- 
lieved to represent Gunnar 
in the serpent pit, as de- 
scribed at the Atlakvida. 
Ninth century. 

37. Another panel from 
the Oseberg part. A man is 
seen on horseback, as if re- 
ceived at the end of a jour- 
ney. He is possibly riding 
to the world of the dead. 

38. Cross slab from Kirk 
Andreas, Isle of Man. 
Odinn is believed to be 
struggling with the wolf 
Fenrir, as his will in the 
Ragnarok (see Ch. XVI). 
The Cross dates from the 

Portal of door of the church of Urnes, Sogn (Norway). The deer is 
haps biting the leaves oi the world tree, Yggdrasill. Sec Ch. XV! . 


42. (below left) Figure like Buddha of Hibcrno-Saxon origin. It forms the handle- 
seating of a bucket found in the Oseberg grave. 

43. (below right). Miniature gold foil from Rogaland (Norway), showing a man and a 

woman. Such foils, of which a number survive, have often been taken to represent the 
god Freyr and his wife Gcrd (see Ch. VII, Freyr). 1? or another interpretation see W. 
Holmquist, Acta Archaeohgica , 1960, 101 ff. 

40. (top) Reconstructed grave of tenth century in National Museum of Iceland. 

47. Cart found in the Oseberg grave. On all sides it is covered with 
elaborate carving, no doubt representing scenes from myth and legend. 
It appears to be designed for ceremonial rather than practical purposes. 
See Ch. VII Njord. " 

Burial chamber found in the ship-grave of Gokstad, Norway. It was 
cd on board the ship. 

48. This cart, dating from the early Iron Age, was found at Dejbjerg in 
Jutland. Like the one illustrated in Plate 47, it must have been designed 
for ceremonial purposes. 

4g. Hooped bucket, one of several found in the Oseberg grave, several oi 
these contained wild apples, which we may be tempted to associate with 
the magical apples kept by the goddess IQunn. See Ch. VIII, Idunn. 


which may preserve memories of the cult of Baldr have also been re- 
corded in Denmark, and they include a Bollesager which may mean 
‘Baldr’s Cornfield’, although the origins and authenticity of these 
Danish names have been questioned . 4 

In fact, little can be learnt about the cult of Baldr from place names. 
They suggest that it was not practised widely, and was connected with 
rocks and hills and, perhaps, that Baldr, like many another god, 
brought fertility to the crops. 

Baldr has the attribute ‘the good’ (him godi ) and he is the good ruler, 
in whose land evil was unknown. A good ruler is always dr sail ^ i.e. the 
crops flourish and the people prosper under his rule . 5 In that sense, at 
least, Baldr was a fertility god, but, like other good rulers, he had war- 
like qualities as well. 

G. Neckel 6 emphasized certain similarities between Baldr and Freyr. 
Both of them are ‘bright’ ( bjartr ), and Neckel thought of them both as 
gods of sun and fertility, believing that the cult of Freyr had over- 
shadowed that of Baldr. The meaning of the name of Baldr, like that of 
Freyr, has generally been taken to be ‘the Lord’, on the analogy of the 
Old English bealdor, but H. Kuhn has shown that there are reasons 
to doubt whether there really was a word baldr /bealdor meaning 
‘Lord’ in any Germanic dialect . 7 The name Baldr has been associated 
by some with baldinn (bold, defiant), and by others with bdl (fire, etc), 
and various Indo-European words meaning ‘shining’ or ‘white ’. 8 Since 
Baldr is the whitest of the gods, the latter suggestion is attractive, but 
scholars tend to base their conclusions about the origin of the name on 
their views of the fundamental character of the god. 

The ultimate origins of the god Baldr have been much discussed. 
G. Neckel 9 believed that he derived from gods of the near east, of the 
type Tammuz, Attis, Adonis, Baal and even Orpheus, who went down 
to Hades in the hope of recovering his dead wife. Gods of this kind often 
died in youth and violently. In some societies their deaths were pub- 
licly lamented at festivals held in autumn, as if the participants would 
weep them from the Underworld. Their return, sometimes celebrated 
in spring, was the occasion of jubilation. 

Tammuz, Attis and Adonis are pronouncedly fertility and seasonal 
gods ; 10 they die with the winter and revive with the spring. But the 
Norse sources do not depict Baldr as a specialized fertility god, as they 
do Freyr. As already mentioned, the fertility of the crops may well have 
been one of the blessings which Baldr brought to his followers, but 
he brought peace and good government as well. 

F. R. Schroder 11 has further emphasized the role of Baldr as a fer- 
tility god by drawing attention, as many had done before him, to the 




similarity between Baldr and the Finnish hero, Lemminkainen. Lem- 
minkainen was beautiful, vigorous and a great lover. In quest of a 
maiden in the hostile north, he drove off all the men by the force of his 
magic songs, sparing only one, a miserable, blind herdsman. He won 
the maiden he desired, but on the condition of performing three peri- 
lous tasks. He succeeded in the first two, but the third was more diffi- 
cult. He must procure the swan from the underground river of Tuonela. 
Lemminkainen reached the river, but the blind herdsman shot him, as 
it seems, with a reed, or shaft of cowbane. The herdsman chopped his 
victim up and hurled the pieces into the river. After a long search and 
many trials, his mother fished the members out of the river with a magic 
rake and joined them together, and Lemminkainen was restored to life. 12 

Few would deny that the story of Lemminkainen owes a good deal 
to that of Baldr. Lemminkainen’s assailant, if not innocent as Ho3 was 
in Snorri’s story, was blind and crippled, and his weapon was a seem- 
ingly harmless plant. But the story of Lemminkainen contains many 
elements which do not appear in any Norse version of that of Baldr, 
and are hardly to be traced to it. Most striking of these is the dismem- 
berment of Lemminkainen’s body and his revival. This may well repre- 
sent a seasonal ritual, the death and revival of the fertility god. The 
dismemberment and re-assembly of the god also have parallels, e.g. in 
the story of Orpheus. Rituals of this kind were common in many parts 
of Asia and Europe, and it would not be difficult to believe that the 
Finns derived this element in their story of Lemminkainen from a Ger- 
manic or Indo-European source. But it would be difficult to accept 
Schroder’s suggestion that the story of Lemminkainen, in moth es like 
these, represents the myth of Baldr in a form older than we otherwise 
know it. There is nothing to suggest that Baldr will ever be restored to 
life until the Ragnarok, nor that his body was dismembered. Baldr 
shows some features of a fertility god, but less than many others. The 
myths of Baldr appear to be much more closely related to those of 
65inn than to those of the specialized fertility-gods. 13 He was the son of 
Cdinn and Frigg, and he was killed by a blind god with a seemingly 
harmless plant. Vikarr, a legendary king of Norway, was similarly 
pierced with a reed (reyrsproti) , 14 which mysteriously turned into a 
spear, by one of Oainn’s agents. Eirik the Victorious, King of the 
Swedes, destroyed his enemies by hurling a reed ( reyrsproti ) over their 
heads, saying: ‘you all belong to Odinn’. The reed had been given to 
Eirik by 06inn, and it turned into a javelin in flight. 16 

On occasion, 6 Sinn would take his own victims. In his broad- 
brimmed hat and blue cloak, the one-eyed 6 Sinn caused the death of 
Sigmund the Volsung 16 and, in the disguise of a charioteer, he battered 



his favourite Harald Wartooth to death with a club. 17 It will be 
noticed that those whose death is caused by OSinn are commonly his 

On such lines, we may suppose that, in an earlier version of the story 
of Baldr’s death, the blind OSinn killed his favourite son and took him 
to his own home. If this is true, the story of Baldr’s death, as we read it 
in the Vqluspd, Baldrs Draumar and in Snorri’s Edda has been modified 
and humanized. OSinn, earlier disguised as Ho3, has been distin- 
guished from him. 

Some scholars, and especially S. Bugge, 18 have been struck by the 
similarity between Baldr and Christ. Apart from general characteris- 
tics, Bugge notices remarkable details in which legends of Christ and 
Baldr resembled each other. Even the story that everything, including 
all trees except the mistletoe, had taken an oath not to injure Baldr 
found a parallel in a medieval Jewish tale. 19 Every tree had sworn that 
it would not bear Christ’s body, except for a cabbage stalk on which 
he was crucified. Bugge also mentioned later English traditions, 
according to which Christ was crucified on a mistletoe. According to 
the apocryphal Vindicta Salvatoris, he was crucified on a green tree (in 
ligno viridi ) . 20 

The most striking correspondence of legends of Christ with those of 
Baldr is to be found in the Old E ngish Dream of the Rood? 1 A great part 
of this poem was inscribed in runes on the Ruthwell Cross in the late 
seventh or early eighth century, but the lines here quoted, although 
they may have been carved, cannot now be read on the stone, except 
for the last. They are read in the Vercelli Codex of the late tenth 

Just as Snorri and another authority said that all things wept for the 
beloved Baldr, the shining god, so the Old English poet described the 
scene on Calvary in magnificent words : 

Lystro haefdon 

bewrigen mid wolcnum Wealdenes hnew, 
scirne sciman ; sceadu fordeode, 

wann under wolcnum. Weop eal gesceaft, 

cwiddon cyninges fyll ; Crist wass on rode. 

Darkness had enveloped in clouds the corpse of the 
Lord, the shining splendour. The shadow came forth, 
dark beneath the clouds; all creation wept, lamented 
the death of the King ; Christ was on the Cross. 

As remarked by B. Dickins and A. S. C. Ross, 22 the similarity be- 
tween this story and that of Baldr’s death cannot be due to chance. It 


would be hard to believe that the myth of Baldr had influenced that of 
Christ, and it has often been said that the weeping of nature for the 
dead god is a motive strange to Norse, in which inanimate objects 
rarely display emotion . 23 For this reason, foreign influences upon the 
story of Baldr have been sought, and especially those of the fertility 
gods of the near east, whose deaths were followed by copious weeping . 24 
The ultimate source of this weeping may well be oriental, but it is prob- 
able that nature wept for Baldr because, in the legend recorded by the 
English poet, she had wept for Christ. We might even go further, and 
suggest that the dry-eyed Thokk was introduced into the story of Baldr 
to explain why he did not rise from Hel as Christ did. 

We need not go so far as M. Olsen 25 did, and describe the cult of 
Baldr as Christianity in pagan clothing, but it may well be allowed that 
Baldr’s character in the original Norse myth laid him open to Christian 
influences. Like Christ, Baldr died, and like Christ he will return at the 
end of the world. 

According to West Norse sources, Baldr was just, innocent and a 
martyr. He was bright and shining like the White Christ (Hvfta-Kristr). 
It is not, therefore, surprising that some Christian or half- Christian 
Norsemen came to regard him as a model of pagan justice, just as they 
regarded some of their early heroes, e.g. Thorhall the Prophet (see 
Ch. XIV) and Gunnarr of HHSarendi, to say nothing of Sigurd. But 
Saxo shows that there- were contrary traditions about Baldr, and he 
sees him from another point of view. 

Continental and English Tradition 

It would be interesting to know whether the cult and myth of Baldr 
were known on the Continent, or in England. 

Attention was early drawn 1 to the legend about the Gautish princes, 
HteScyn and Herebeald, sons of Hredel, which was told cursorily in 
Beowulf { 2434 ff}- The younger brother, missing his target, accidentally 
shot his brother with an arrow : 

Was ham yldestan ungedelflice 

masges daedum morporbed stred, 

syddan hyne Hzedcyn of hornbogan, 

his freawine, flane geswencte, 

miste mercelses ond his maeg ofscet. 

For the eldest a premature death by violence was brought 
about by a kinsman’s deed: since Haedcyn assailed him, 
his dear comrade, with an arrow from the curve-tipped bow ; 
he missed the mark and killed his kin, with blood-stained 
shaft one brother shot another. 



Many commentators have supposed that this legend is in some way 
related to the myth of Baldr’s death ; one brother shoots the other, per- 
haps by accident. In the northern story the brothers are called Baldr 
and Hqdr ; in Beowulf they are Herebeald and Hadcyn. Herebeald resembles 
Baldr in its second element; Hebcyn resembles Hqdr in its first. These 
correspondences have been explained in various ways. The myth of 
Baldr, as some suggest, influenced the story of Herebeald. This in- 
fluence was, therefore, present already in the south-Scandinavian lay, 
which was one of the sources of Beowulf. If the story was based on history, 
as many suppose it was, a poet had raised it into the divine world, 
making the names of the protagonists accord with those of Baldr and 
Hod, which he knew from myth . 2 

There is an alternative explanation. The incident mentioned in 
Beowulf was historical, and the myth was based on history or, at least, 
history supplied the names of the mythical figures . 3 

If the first explanation were correct, it would at least prove that the 
myth of Baldr and Hod was current in Scandinavia before the heroic 
poem used in this part of Beowulf took shape, shall we say, before the 
seventh century. If the second explanation were correct, the myth 
could not have existed in such a form as we know it until after that 

But the similarities between the two stories are too superficial to 
force the conclusion that there was any relationship between them; The 
story of Herebeald could well be based on history for, as F. Klaeber re- 
marks , 4 accidents of this kind must often have happened. We are left 
with the correspondence, not of personal names, but of name-elements. 
The first elements her- (kari-) and kqd- ( hapu ) are common enough in 
Old Norse . 5 The element bald- is rare in Old Norse personal names , 6 
but is common in Old English, and the compound Herebeald is not rare. 

Even if it is allowed that the story of Herebeald is related ultimately 
to that of Baldr, this does not show that the English poet knew of the 
relationship, or that he had ever heard of the god. 

Some versions of the Old English royal genealogies, which embody 
traditions of great antiquity , 7 include a Baldag Wodening, or Basldasg son 
of Woden. ^Ethelweard, in his Chronicle 8 written in the late tenth cen- 
tury, replaces Baddceg with Balder. In the same way, Snorri, who used a 
version of the Old English genealogies in the Prologue to his Edda, in- 
cluded as son of OSinn, Beldegg, er vdrkqllum Baldr (Beldeg, whom we call 

The fact that Baeldseg is said to be the son of Woden (Cdinn) has 
prompted many scholars to follow vEthelweard and Snorri in identify- 
ing him with Baldr . 9 But .Ethel wear d, when he made the identification 



was probably influenced by Norse traditions and, although this tells 
nothing about the traditions of the English, it does show that N orse- 
men in England in the tenth century remembered that Baldr was son 

For the rest, it is difficult to equate the name Baldag with Baldr. The 
English name is, in fact, a compound containing the element -dag, 
occasionally found in other English and Norse names, such as Swipdag 
(O.N. Svipdagr ), Wagdag, Leofdag. 

Place-names provide no better evidence that Baldr was known or 
worshipped among the English. Those, such as Baldersby in Yorkshire, 
and Balderston in Lancashire, as well as Bealdersleah and Bealderesbeorg, 
recorded in Old English , 10 are thought to be compounded with the 
personal name Baldhere. 

A few plant-names, which like the Old Norse Baldrsbra, probably 
contain the name of the god, have been recorded in English. Examples 
include Balder-herb , Balder Brae and Baldeyebrow, 11 but it is believed 
that they are all of Norse origin. 

It seems, therefore, that there is nothing to show that the ancient 
English knew the god Baldr, and English sources provide no evidence 
of the age or extent of his cult. 

Although no positive evidence of a cult of Baldr can be found in 
Anglo-Saxon England, there are stronger reasons to believe that he was 
known in continental Germany. S. Gutenbrunner 12 and F. R. Schroder 
called attention to a form Baldruo found on a votive stone at Utrecht, 
and said to date from the third or fourth century. But this may not 

necessarily be the name of the god. # . 

The so-called Second Merseburg Charm is of greater interest, and is 
preserved in a manuscript of the ninth or tenth century. It is a charm to 
heal sprains, written in alliterative form and probably in the middle 
German dialect. I quote the text in the form given by J. K. Bostock 
together with his rendering : 

Phol ende Uuodan uuorun zi holza. 

du uuart demo balderes uolon sin uuoz birenkit. 

thu biguolen Sinthgunt, Sunna era suister, 

thu beguolen Friia, Uolla era suister, 

thu beguolen Uuodan so he uuola conda . 

sose benrenki, sose bluotrenki, sose lidirenki— 
ben zi bena, bluot zi bluoda, 

lid zi geliden, sose gefimida sin. 

Phol and Wodan went to the forest. Then Balder’s horse 
sprained its foot. Then Sinthgunt the sister of Sunna 



charmed it, then Frija the sister of Volla charmed it, 
then Wodan charmed it, as he was well able to do. Be it 
sprain of the bone, be it sprain of the blood, be it sprain 
of the limb : Bone to bone, blood to blood, limb to limb, 
thus be they fitted together. 

It would not be suitable here to enter into the intricate problems 
which these lines raise. It was noticed many years ago that there were 
numerous charms like this one . 15 They are found throughout the Ger- 
manic world, and often contain an allusion to a horse with a broken 
leg. In modern versions, it is commonly Christ’s horse whose leg is 
broken and healed, but similar phrases occur almost monotonously, e.g. 

bone to bone, 
sinew to sinew, 
blood to blood, 
flesh to flesh . . . 

It seems also to be clear that a charm of this kind was known in Ireland 
in early times. It is told that after Nuadu had lost his hand the physician 
Dian Cecht fixed a silver one to him, and hence he was called Nuadu 
of the Silver Hand. But there is an addition, or another version of this 
story. Miach, the son of the physician, took away the silver hand, and 
instead he fixed : ‘joint to joint and vein to vein of his own hand upon 
him, and in thrice nine days it was healed ’. 16 

F. R. Schroder 17 plainly demonstrated the use of similar formulae in 
the Finnish story of Lemminkainen, when his mother joined his severed 
limbs together and restored him to life. According to W. F. Kirby’s 
free rendering : 

Then the flesh to flesh she fitted, 
and the bones together fitted, 
and the joints together jointed, 
and the veins she pressed together. 

Then she bound the veins together, 
all their ends she knit together, 
and with care the threads she counted . . . 1S 

The Finns, as is generally supposed, derived these formulae from 
their Germanic neighbours. 

It has also been recognized that the tradition expressed in the Ger- 
manic, Celtic and Finnish phrases is a part of Indo-European inherit- 
ance, since similar thoughts, even similar phrases, are found in a charm 
in the Indian Atharva-Veda (iv, 12 ). 19 

In the Merseburg Charm, as it seems, magical phrases of great 



antiquity have been embedded in a myth, just as they were later to be 
in the Kalevala. The Merseburg text is especially interesting because it is 
one of the few literary sources in German in which heathen deities are 
named, and because so many of them are named together. 

The identity of these gods and goddesses and the underlying myth 
have been the subject of rich and productive discussion, but it will be 
long before any final solution is found. One of the goddesses, Sinthgunt, 
eludes every reasonable explanation. Most probably Phol, in spite of 
the irregular spelling of his name 20 , is a male counterpart of Volla 
(Folia), here said to be the sister of Frija (Frigg). A goddess Fulla 
(Fyllr, Fylla) is known from the scaldic kennings and, according to 
Snorri, she was the handmaid and confidante of Frigg. 21 Her name (the 
filler, lifegiver) 22 and her flowing hair give her away as a fertility god- 
dess, and she carried Frigg’ s basket, as if she were one of the matronae.- 3 
We can, therefore, suppose that Phol and Volla were a divine pair 
comparable with Freyr and Freyja. 

Baldr’s position in the Merseburg myth is no less difficult to deter- 
mine. Some commentators have doubted whether it is right to render 
balderes as ‘Baldr’s’, and have preferred to interpret it as an appellative 
meaning ‘the lord’, and referring back to Phol. This is improbable 
because there is no evidence of a word balder meaning lord in conti- 
nental German, and there are reasons to doubt whether there was such 
a word in other Germanic dialects. 24 

Gn such grounds we may conclude that the Merseburg Charm pro- 
vides the only weighty evidence of a cult of Baldr outside Scandinavia 
and her colonies. We are left to wonder what the god Baldr had to do 
with sprains and injured horses. 

No doubt this was told in the forgotten myth upon which the Merse- 
burg Charm was based, but neither the German nor the Norse sources 
provide any story which explains it. 

It has been said that the gods and goddesses were all riding to the 
sacred grove, or to the Yggdrasill, where they sat in judgment every 
day, and when Baldr’s horse stumbled it was a presage of his doom, as 
it was when Gunnar’s horse stumbled on his way to board ship.*- 0 
This suggestion is, to say the least, fanciful. 

It is more interesting to notice that Norse tradition of a horse called 
Blodughqfi (Bloody-hoofed). It is said in the Kdlfsvisa™ a mnemonic 
poem containing a list of mythical and legendary horses : 

Rei6 bani Belja Blodughofa 

The slayer of Beli rode the Bloody-hoofed. 

and in the Porgrimspula , 27 another mnemonic poem : 



BIoQughofi het hestr er bera ko3u 

gflgan AtriSa 

Bloody-hoofed was the name of the horse whom 
they said would carry the mighty Atri3i. 

The slayer of Beli is Freyr (see Ch. VII) . It is, therefore, supposed 
that ‘Bloody-hoofed’ was Freyr ’s horse, and that Atridi must be a name 
for Freyr. This deduction is probably correct, although this same 
name in its strong form ( Atridr , the up-rider) is applied to Gdinn in the 
Gnmnismal (str. 48). Freyr is the chief god of fertility in the literary 
sources, but Baldr also shows some marks of a fertility god. It would not 
be surprising if myths at one time applied to Baldr were later trans- 
ferred to Freyr. 

It has frequently been objected, on stylistic grounds, that there is no 
room for three gods in the first two lines of the Merseburg Charm. For 
this reason, Balder, if it does not mean ‘the lord’, must be another name 
for Phol. 28 This objection should not be over-stressed. The Charm, for 
all its historical interest, is without context and is poetry of a low class, 
in which literary discipline is hardly to be expected. 

In short, the Charm tells no details about the cult or character of 
Baldr, but it shows that he was known on the Continent. 




In the last chapter Loki appeared as the instigator of Baldr s murder , 
he was the rddbani, while Hod, his blind instrument, was the handbani. 
There was an alternative version of this story, best represented by Saxo, 
in which Hod struck down Baldr without prompting. In this case Hod 
was not blind. 

While both versions of the story appeared to be old, at least as old as 
the tenth century, it could not be decided which was the older. It is not 
likely that this question will ever be answered, but if we examine the 
character of Loki, as it is described in the Old Norse sources, we may 
learn something of his place in mythology, and see whether he was 
likely to be guilty of all the wickedness with which he was charged. The 
modern literature on this subject is immense. Nearly all of the critics 
have contributed something useful, but it is hard for the layman to find 
his way through the labyrinth of conflicting theory. It is, therefore, best 
to begin by considering the primary sources, and to see what can be 
learnt from them. 

When other gods were discussed, it was generally possible to speak 
of a cult. These gods were worshipped at one time or another by a 
social or geographical group. Evidence of this was found partly in early 
poetry and partly in place-names, and sometimes in the later prose 

There is nothing to suggest that Loki was ever worshipped, and it 
would be hard to believe that he was ever the object of a cult. We can 
learn little of Loki except from the literary sources of the Middle Ages, 
but these are sufficient to show that he filled an important place in the 
Norse hierarchy, and was not merely the figment of later romancers. 

The scalds of the tenth century tell something about Loki’s origins 
and about his relations with other mythical beings. They also show how 
many divergent myths about this puzzling deity were current in early 

The oldest scald to mention Loki was Thjddolf of Hvm, the friend 
and contemporary of Harald Finehair (died c. 945) - 1 some twelve 
strophes of his Haustlgng , 2 Thjoddlf told a story of Loki. The poem, as 



already remarked, is a ‘shield 5 poem, in which the poet describes figures 
painted on a shield. On one of the panels the chief figures were the 
giant Thjazi, Loki and two other gods, Hoenir and evidently Odinn. 

Many phrases in the Haustlgng are obscure but, with the help of 
Snorri, who retold the story in simple prose, it is possible to follow the 
story which passed through the poet’s mind as he described the pic- 
tures on the shield. He beheld three mighty gods travelling together; 
they were stewing an ox for dinner. The meat was slow to cook and 
Odinn knew that there was some reason for this. The giant Thjazi had 
flown down in the form of an eagle and had settled on a tree above the 
gods. The eagle, demanding his share of the feast, flew down from the 
tree, seized the four legs of the ox and devoured the meat greedily at 
the base of the tree, until Loki struck him with a pole. The pole stuck 
to the eagle and Loki stuck to the pole, and thus the eagle flew off, 
carrying the frightened god. In his distress, Loki begged for quarter. 
The giant laid down his terms, demanding that Loki should bring him 
Idunn, the goddess who alone knew the remedy which saved the gods 
from growing old (see Ch. VIII, Idunn). Loki fulfilled his promise and 
the gods, now old, hoary and ugly, met in conclave. They threatened 
to punish Loki unless he brought back their beloved Idunn. Loki then 
changed into the form of a falcon ; he recovered Idunn and flew back 
carrying her to Asgard, while the giant pursued him, again in eagle 
form. Meanwhile the gods kindled a fire and the giant plunged into it 
and was burned. 

Snorri added a number of interesting details to the allusive story of 
Thjodolf, but already Thjodolf had given a fairly clear picture of Loki. 
The kennings and other expressions by which he designates the god 
are of particular interest. Loki is called Loptr, probably meaning ‘sky- 
traveller’. In the Haustlgng (str. 5), as well as in a later poem, Loki is 
said to be the son of Ffirbauti, According to Snorri, Farbauti was a 
giant, as his name (perhaps the Cruel Striker) would suggest. There- 
fore, although he appears among the gods, Loki is not of divine origin. 

According to the Haustlgng (str. 7), Loki is farmr Sigynjar arma , ‘the' 
burden of Sigyn’s arms’, i.e. lover or husband of Sigyn. Little is known 
of Sigyn, but her relations with Loki are mentioned in several later 
sources. Loki is also said to be the father of the wolf (str. 8), i.e. of the 
monster Fenrir, who will break loose in the Ragnarok. 

Thjoddlf alludes to several of Loki’s evil deeds besides the rape of 
I5unn. He was the thief of the Brising belt, or perhaps necklace {Busings 
girdipjofr str. 9) ; he was often afterwards to cheat the gods (str. 12), and 
he is the one whom the gods watch bound in chains (str. 7) . 

But in the Haustlgng , Loki does not appear only as the enemy of the 




gods. It was he who betrayed Idunn, but also he who brought her back, 
albeit under compulsion, and it was Loki who caused the destruction of 
the giant. He is the companion of Odinn and friend of Hcenir (str. 3; 
and, strangely enough, he is the friend of Thor (Pars of rum, str. 8). 

Thjodolf’s other great poem, the Ynglinga Tal, also contains allusions 
to Loki. He is the father of the death-goddess, Hel, who is, therefore 
called Loka mar (Loki’s daughter, str. 7), 3 and he must be the brother of 
Byleist (str. 31). He is given the name Hvedrungr (str. 32), which prob- 
ably means ‘the roarer’. # . . 

I have delayed over the work of Thjodolf because his description 01 
Loki is by far the oldest preserved. It transpires from it that the character 
of Loki, as we know it from later sources, was largely formed by the 
early tenth century. He was son of a giant and parent of demons of 
death and destruction; he was a shape-changer and could travel 
through the air. His courage failed in his encounter with the giant ; he 
cheated the gods and was bound in chains, but yet he was the friend 
and companion of Odinn, Hcenir and Thor. 

Later scalds also made occasional reference to Loki and added some 
features to the picture given by Thjodolf. Among these was Eiljf 
Godrunarson, probably an Icelander, who lived at the end of the tenth 
century. He composed a lay about Hakon the Great (died 995) and 
another in honour of Christ, of which slight fragments survive. 

The only considerable poem ascribed to Eilif is the ‘Lay of Thor 5 
(. Porsdrdpa ). 4 The subject is the journey of Thor to the house of the 
giant Geirrad (see Ch. Ill, Thor’s Hammer and his Goats), but it is 
doubtful how much of it could be understood had not Snorri 5 retold the 
story in prose and supplemented the account given in the Porsdrdpa 

from other sources. . 

According to the lay, it was Loki who tricked Thor into undertaking 
the perilous journey to the house of the giant : Loki was a great liar, a 
perjurer and a faithless friend of Thor. The two, as it seems, set out to- 
gether, eager to assault the giant tribe. As in the Haustlqng, Loki is 
called Loptr (Sky-traveller) and, in a transferred kenning {ofljost) he is 
Gammleid ( —path of a mythical bird —sky =Lopt(r) ). 6 The poem con- 
tains an obscure allusion to Loki’s marriage with Sigyn, 7 and he is said 
to be ‘father of the rope of the ocean’ {Iqgseims fadir ) , i.e. father of the 
Midgardsorm, the evil world-serpent. , 

Loki also figured in one of the carved panels described by Ulf Ugga- 
son in the Husdrdpa (see Ch. I, Old Norse Poetry). The strophe in which 
Loki is mentioned is open to every kind of interpretation, and many of 
those offered start with the assumption that Snorri, who transmitted the 
strophe, misunderstood it fundamentally. This is improbable because, 


according to Snorri, the poet made a long passage about this scene 
(kvad langa siund eptir peiri frdsqgn ) , and we may be satisfied that he knew 
more of it than the single strophe which he quoted, and therefore under- 
stood it better than we do. 

As Snorri interpreted the strophe in the Husdrdpa , it described a 
struggle between Loki (the sly son of F&rMuti) and the god Heimdall 
(son of nine mothers, guardian of the land of the gods?) at a place 
called Singasteinn for possession of the beautiful hafnyra (literally ‘sea- 
kidney’), which Snorri believed to be the Brising necklace. 9 Singasteinn 
was evidently a rock far out at sea, 10 for Snorri says that the two gods 
had taken the form of seals. 

Some Eddaic lays have far more to tell of Loki, but most of these are 
of uncertain age, and it is difficult to know to what period the concep- 
tions implied in them belong. We may begin with one of the latest, the 
Vqluspa en skamma (Short Voluspa), since it ties up closely with scaldic 
lays, and was no doubt influenced by them, although not necessarily by 
those known to us. The Short Voluspa is preserved only in the Flatey- 
jarbok of the late fourteenth century. The few strophes which belong to 
it are incorporated in the Hyndluljod , a lay of a very different kind. 11 
The Short Voluspa is quoted by name by Snorri in his Edda , 12 and it 
appears to be an imitation of the great Voluspa, made by a Christian 
poet of the eleventh or twelfth century. 

Just as Thjodolf said, so this poet says that Loki was father of the 
‘wolf’, but the author of the Short Voluspa is more precise. Loki begat 
the wolf on Angrboda, whose name (Distress-bringer) suggests that she 
was a giantess. Angrboda is named in no other source except by Snorri, 
who was probably influenced by the Short Voluspa. 

In the Short Voluspa we also hear for the first time the astonishing 
story that Loki was not the father, but the mother of Odinn’s horse 
Sleipnir : 

en Sleipni gat and begat Sleipnir 

vid Svadilfara by Svadilfari 

This myth may become plainer when we pass on to other sources. 

In another strophe (41) the Short Voluspa tells how Loki (again 
called Loptr ) found the half-roasted heart of an evil woman and ate it, 
and from this became pregnant. Tales like this are common enough, but 
the poet probably expresses an ancient tradition when he says that 
every female monster {flagc ) hvert) on earth comes from Loki’s brood. 

The older poets already mentioned had seen Loki as the parent of 
monsters, but they had not shown that he was bisexual, and could bear 
as well as beget his foul progeny. 



Assertions that Loki was bisexual, or homosexual appear again in the 
Lokasenna (The Flyting of Loki). This poem, found in the Codex Regius 
of the Poetic Edda, is of vital importance for the study of Loki as, in- 
deed, of other deities, and it must be considered fairly closely. 

The scene is described in a prose introduction. A feast was held in the 
house of the sea-god, ^Egir. All the gods and goddesses were present, 
except for Thor, who was away on one of his journeys in the east, the 
world of giants. The place was a sanctuary, in which no violence might 
be done, but when the gods praised the excellence of iEgir’s servants, 
Loki was so enraged that he killed one of them. The gods drove Loki 
out, but he made his way back, and with this the poem opens. 

In crisp, succinct phrases Loki hurls abuse at one of the gods after 
another, and he finds the weak spot in everyone’s conduct. OSinn had 
often given victory to cowards instead of to the brave (str. 22), and 
he had dabbled in sorcery like a witch (str. 24) ; Freyja had been the 
mistress of all the gods and elves, even of her own brother (strs. 30— 3 2 )* 
Thus the wrangling goes on until Thor appears and drives Loki out 
under the threat of his hammer. In a prose colophon, which may not 
originally have belonged to this context, it is told how Loki hid in a 
waterfall in the form of a salmon until the gods seized and bound him, 
as is told in detail by Snorri. 

Much can be learnt about the gods from this poem, but some of its 
most interesting passages are about Loki himself. He is said to have 
borne children, and OSinn says to him (str. 23) : 

atta vetr vartu fyr j$r 5 neSan You were seven years below the earth, 

kfr molkandi ok kona, milking cows as a woman ; 

ok hefir jm bqrn borit, you have borne children 

ok hugSa ek £at args aSal. and I thought that the way of a 


OSinn also calls Loki the father of the wolf (str. 10), and there is an 
allusion to the day when Loki, the smith of all evil, will be bound in 
chains (str. 41). Loki is a cowardly, effeminate wretch (rqg vattr, 
strs. 57 ff). 

Loki, in his turn, boasts of the misfortunes he has brought upon the 
gods. It is because of him that Frigg will never again see her beloved 
son, Baldr, riding to the hall (str. 28) ; it was the crafty Loki who 
seduced Thor’s wife (str. 54). He boasts before SkaSi that it was he who 
had caused the death of her father, Thjazi (str. 50), and yet she had 
invited him to her bed (str. 52). 

Loki’s strangest boast is that, in the days of old, he and OSinn had 



‘mixed their blood’, i.e. sworn oaths of foster-brotherhood, and OSinn 
had vowed that he would never taste beer but in the company of 
Loki (str. 9). 

There has been some dispute about the age of the Lokasenna , but it 
probably belongs to the same period as the Vqluspd, that of the Conver- 
sion, or rather to the age when the heathen religion was falling into dis- 
repute. All the gods are shown in a bad light, with the sole exception of 

There is nothing to suggest that the poet was a Christian. Apart 
from the slight respect which he shows for Th6r, he despises all gods, 
and he might well be one of those irreligious men, who believed in their 
‘might and main’, such as will be described in Ch. XIV. 

This need not imply that the author of the Lokasenna disbelieved in 
the existence of gods, although he placed so little faith in them. If he 
had reacted against the pagan tradition, he was brought up in it, and 
the abuse of the gods which he puts into the mouth of Loki is soundly 
based. The same may be said of the accusations made against Loki. It 
transpires from these that Loki was not only a shape-changer, but also 
a sex-changer. This theme is further developed by Snorri. 

Little as the author of the Lokasenna has in favour of the gods, Loki 
appears in his poem as the enemy of all of them. It is as if, evil as he was, 
he had drawn every kind of evil to himself. 

Not the least surprising accusation brought against Loki is that he 
was bisexual, or sexually inverted, a fault which he shares with OSinn. 
According to some Icelandic Family Sagas, there was no more despic- 
able crime than passive homosexuality, or ergi, as it was called. Some- 
times, as an insult, images of men in indecent postures would be erected 13 
and, in one instance, the litigants were persuaded to settle the dispute 
out of court, rather than bring so unseemly a case before the Assembly 14 . 
In Jfjdls Saga (Gh. CXXIII), SkarpheSinn brought an accusation of this 
kind against Flosi, and Flosi brought a more subtle one against the 
beardless Njall. According to Icelandic law, three insulting words (mgr, 
strobinn , sordino ), 15 all conveying the sense homosexual, or rather in- 
vert, were punishable by full outlawry. Similar provisions are made in 
early Swedish law. 16 

For all this, sagas 17 contain jolly jokes on this topic, which suggest 
that not everyone took it seriously, and it is difficult to know how deep 
was the horror of inversion sometimes expressed. As explained in an- 
other chapter, it had its place in Germanic ritual. Inversion was per- 
haps acceptable, or even demanded of priests of certain cults, muliebri 
omatu , 18 and consequently it must, at least in early times, have been 
practised among the gods. But that which is permissible to gods and 

13 * 


priests is not necessarily fitting for laymen. The author of the Lokasenna, 
certainly not a devout pagan, seems to dethrone the gods and to judge 
their conduct as he would that of an immoral neighbour, in whom in- 
version was unmanly. 

As already remarked, Loki was not only the enemy of the gods, but 
he sometimes got them out of difficulties. According to the Haustlgng, he 
rescued Idunn from the clutches of the giants. Similarly the Prymskvida, 
one of the best-known lays of the Edda , tells how Loki used his cunning 
to recover Thor’s hammer. 

The Eddaic lays contain few other references to Loki. According to 
the Hymiskvida (str. 37), it was the guileful Loki {inn hevisi Loki ) who 
broke the leg of one of the goats who drew Thor’s chariot. This appears 
to be a variant of the story of Thor and Thjalfi, told in detail by Snorri 
(see Ch. Ill, Thor’s Hammer and his Goats). 

The FJqlsvinnsmdl (Words of Fjbllsvinn, str. 26), preserved only in late 
manuscripts, alludes to a magic sword, Lcevateinn 19 (the guileful twig) 
forged with runes by Lopt (Loki) beneath the gates of death. Only this 
sword can slay the cock Vidofnir, who sits in the Mimameid (Tree of 
Mfmi, i.e. Yggdrasill). 

The so-called Regiminal (Words of Reginn) contains an introduction i 

in prose, presumably the work of its thirteenth-century redactor, tell- 
ing how the three gods, Odinn, Hcenir and Loki, were travelling to- 
gether, as they were in the story of the Haustlgng. This story, which is 
given in closer detail by Snorri will be discussed below. 

In the last chapter, Loki’s part in the murder of Baldr, and his 
punishment for it, were considered in the light of the Vqluspa and the 
Baldrs Draumar. The Baldr s Draumar contained an allusion to the bound 
Loki, who would break loose in the Ragnarok. The same apprehension 
is implied in the Vgluspd. "I his poem (str. 51) also tells that, in the Rag- 
narok, Loki will be at the helm of the ship which carries the sons of 
Muspell, the demons of destruction, from the east. 

Together the scalds and the Eddaic poets have left a fairly clear 
picture of Loki and his relations with other mythical beings. He is the 
friend of some of the gods, but a doubtful and untrustworthy friend. 

He is associated particularly with Hcenir, of whom next to nothing can 
be known, and with Odinn, of whom in the days of old he was foster- 
brother. Loki is wily and malicious {Uviss, Icegjarn, stegr), and he forged 
the sword Lcevateinn ; lie is the blood-relative of demons and monsters, 
although he often broke the bonds of kindred by contending with them 
in the interest of the gods. He is a shape- and sex-changer, and long 
before the Ragnarok he will be the arch-enemy of all gods, waiting until 
his chains break, when he will join the demons. 



Loki thus appears in the poems as a complicated figure, who must 
have many generations of development behind him. 

Little is told of Loki by the prose writers of the Middle Ages, except 
by Snorri, who repeats most of the stories which I have quoted, adds 
others to them, and supplies a wealth of detail. It is plain that Snorri 
had richer sources than those known to us. 

When he introduces Loki, Snorri gives an impression of the com- 
plexity of his character : 

There is yet another counted among the fiEsir, whom some call the slander- 
bearer ( rogbera ) of the TEsir, the promoter of deceit, the stain of all gods and 
men. He is called Loki or Lopt, and is the son of the giant Farbauti. His 
mother is called Laufey or Nal, and his brothers are Byleist and Helblindi 
(Death-blind) . Loki is handsome and fine to look at, .but evil in temper, and 
very variable in manner. He excels others in that form of wit which is called 
guile ( slcegd ), and he resorts to wiles for everything. Time and again he has 
brought the gods into grave trouble, but often rescued them by his wiles . 20 

Snorri goes on to tell that Sigyn was the wife of Loki, and their son 
was Narfi or Nari. He tells of Loki’s children by the giantess Angrboda, 
the wolf Fenrir, the World-serpent and the death-goddess, Hel. 

In the Skaldskaparmdl (XXIV) Snorri returns to Loki and- gives a list 
of kennings and poetic expressions which may be used to designate him. 
Many of these are based on Loki’s relations with other mythical 
creatures, with the giant, Farbauti, the wolf, Fenrir, the world-serpent, 
with Hel, Odinn and other gods. He is also the thief of Sif’s hair, of the 
Brising necklace and of Idunn’s apples. Loki is the sly god, the slanderer 
and the crafty one. He is the instigator of Baldr’s murder ( rddbani ), the 
bound god, the enemy of Heimdall and Skadi. 

Some of these kennings were used in poems discussed above. Others 
may have been used in poems known to Snorri but not to us, and 
Snorri may have constructed some of them from the myths which he 
told. As already remarked the expression rddbani Baldrs finds its counter- 
part in the Short Voluspa (str. 29), where Hod is called the handbani or 
physical slayer of Baldr. 

It is not necessary to discuss the myths which Snorri repeats from the 
poems already quoted, but it may be helpful to mention some details 
which he adds to the existing poems. 

Snorri 21 retells the story of Loki, the giant Thjazi and the goddess 
Idunn, closely following the Haustlgng but adds some details. The 
remedy against old age ( ellilyf ), which Idunn alone controlled, con- 
sisted, according to Snorri, of sacred apples which the gods used to eat. 
Loki enticed the goddess into the forest saying that he had found some 




wonderful apples, and she must bring hers to compare with them. Loki, 
when he undertook to bring Idunn back, flew to the Giant World in 
Freyja’s falcon-skin (z talshamr). The giant was away, and he found 
Idunn alone. He changed her into the form of a nut and flew off bearing 
her in his daws. The giant pursued him in the form of an eagle and lost 
his life as is told in the Haustlqng. 

Snorri appends another story to this, and a peculiar one it is. Skadi, 
the daughter of Thjazi took up arms and made her way to Asgard, 
determined to avenge her father. To appease her anger, the gods said 
that she could choose any one of their number, but must choose him by 
his legs alone. She chose the sea-god Njord thinking, evidently from his 
clean legs, that he was Baldr (see Ch. VII, Njord). The gods did some- 
thing else to please Skadi. She said that, after her father’s death, they 
would never make her laugh, but the gods contrived to do so. Loki tied 
his testicles to the beard of a goat. As Loki pulled one way and the 
goat the other, they both squawked, and when Loki fell on Skadi’s knee 
she laughed. It is also told that, to please Skadi, Odinn took the eyes of 
Thjazi and hurled them into the sky where they became two stars. 
In another source, it was Thor who did this (see Gh. Ill, Thor and 
the Giants). 

Since Snorri followed a known source closely in the greater part of 
this tale, we may suspect that he was following lost sources closely in his 
additions. The scene in which Loki struggles with the goat is compli- 
cated and primitive, and hardly of the kind which the sophisticated 
Snorri would invent. 

Eilif Godrunarson’s Porsdr&pa was mentioned earlier (Gh. I, Old 
Norse Poetry). When Snorri retold the story to which Eilif alludes, 22 he 
added many details. He derived some of these from another poetic source, 
which he quotes, and he may have supplied others to make the story 
more comprehensible. 

According to thePorsdrapa, it was Loki who induced Thor to make the 
journey to the house of the giant Geirrad, but Snorri explains the cir- 
cumstances under which Loki did this. Loki was disporting himself in 
Frigg’s hawk-skin and, out of curiosity,, he flew to the house of the 
giant and peered through the window. A serving man caught the hawk 
and showed him to the giant who could see that his eyes were not those 
of a bird. He shut him in his chest and starved him until Loki promised 
to bring Th6r to the giant’s house without his girdle of strength or his 
hammer. Loki, as it seems, accompanied Thor on the first part of his 
journey, but he disappears from the scene. 

According to the Short Voluspa, as already mentioned, the shape-, 
sex-changing Loki bore the famous colt, Sleipnir, to Svadilfari. Without 

the help of Snorri we could make little of this, but Snorri 23 tells a long 
and rather confused story to explain it. 

The gods had just established Midgard and Valholl when a builder 
arrived and offered to build a wall ( borg ) secure against the giant-race. 
His terms were hard. If he finished the work in one winter, he was to be 
rewarded with the goddess Freyja and to take the sun and the moon 
from the sky. He must be helped by no one, but Loki arranged that he 
might use his stallion, Svadilfari. The stallion dragged great rocks, and 
the work went speedily and, with only three days left before the end of 
winter, the builder had completed the wall and nearly reached the 
gate. In dismay, the gods met in council to discover who had made the 
disastrous bargain, under which they would be deprived of Freyja as 
well as of the sun and the moon, and condemned to live in perpetual 
darkness. They threatened Loki with death unless he could find a way 
out of this contract. Loki was afraid, and he undertook to cheat the 
builder, but he did so in an unseemly manner. In the night, while the 
builder and his stallion were carting rocks, a mare galloped from the 
forest and whinnied, and the stallion pursued her, and so the work 
was stopped. The builder seeing that the task could not be finished, 
flew into a giant rage ( jqtunmobr ), and the gods knew now, if they had 
not known before, that their builder was a rock-giant. They called for 
Thor, who crashed his hammer on the monster’s skull and sent him to 
Niflheim, the world of death. Soon afterwards, Loki bore the foal 
Sleipnir, grey and with eight legs. 

Snorri supports his story with two strophes from the Vqluspd : 

25. gengu regin qll 
a rQkstola, 
ginnheilog god, 
ok of J)at gasttusk, 
hverir hefdi lopt alt 
lasvi blandit 
eda gett jgtuns 
6 6s mey gefna. 

Then all the powers 

went to their judgment seats, 

the most holy gods, 

and took council about this : 

who had filled 

the sky with guile 

and given the wife of 6d (Freyja) 

to the race of giants. 

26. A gengusk eidar 
or6 ok soeri 
m&l q 11 meginlig, 
er a medal foru ; 

]>6rr einn bar va 
firunginn modi, 
hann sjaldan sitr, 
er hann slikt of fregn. 

Oaths were broken, 
bonds and covenants 
all mighty pacts 
sealed between them. 

Thdr alone struck there, 
swollen with rage. 

He seldom stays still 
when he hears such things. 





The context in which Snorri places these strophes differs so sharply 
from that of the Vqluspd that Snorri has widely been accused of mis- 
understanding the poem, and even of falsifying his evidence. It is im- 
probable that he did either. 

According to the poem, the prelude to the strophes quoted was the 
war between the Msir and the Vanir, in which the wall of Asgard had 
been destroyed (see Gh. VII, first section). Peace was evidently con- 
cluded between the warring parties, but extant texts of the Vqluspa 
contain no allusion to the reconstruction of the wall. Possibly these 
texts are defective, but it is no less likely that the poet expected more 

knowledge of his hearers than we possess. 

In either case, a considerable time must have elapsed between 
strophe 24, in which the Vanir broke down the wall of Asgard, and 
strophe 25, in which the Vanadfs, Freyja, was dwelling among the ^sir 
and had been given, or promised, to the giant-race. 

Loki is not mentioned at this point in the Vqluspd, but this need not 
lead us to suppose that Snorri was wrong in charging him with the 
betrayal of Freyja. Nor need we conclude, as many critics have done, 
that Snorri misunderstood the lines 

hverr (v.l. hverir ) hefdi lopt alt 
laevi blandit. 

The noun la (neut.) sometimes means ‘destruction 5 ; m compounds such 
as adjectives laviss, lagjarn , and the noun lavisi (fern.), it means rather 
‘malice, guile 5 . It is interesting to notice that such compounds are most 
frequently associated with Loki, and that he, according to the Fjql- 
svinnsmdl (str. 26), forged the magic sword Lavateinn If anyone had in- 
fused the sky with ‘guile 5 it was most likely to be Loki. His way of ^ng 
so could well be, as Snorri believed, by disposing of the sun and the 
moon, so that the sky would be dark, cold, dank and unpurged by the 

life-giving sun. ~ , n 

Snorri’s story does not contradict the Vqluspd, but he did not find a 
that he tells in its extant texts. Nor is it likely that such motives as those 
of the stallion and the god-mare would ever have been included in this 
serious, moral poem. If Snorri’s story is not always consistent, it is 
probably because here, as in other passages, he was attempting to 
reconcile conflicting sources. 

Snorri’s story contains elements common in folk-tale. Everyone fi 
heard stories about a master who bargains with a builder to complete a 
church or some other great work within a given time. The builder may 
be a giant or troll, or even the devil himself. As his reward, the builder 


may claim his master’s soul, his son, even the sun and the moon. In the 
end the master uses some trick, and the builder is cheated. 24 

But Snorri’s story is more elaborate than these are, and contains 
motives strange to the folktale. The strangest of all is that of the master, 
or his agent changing into a mare, and seducing the builder’s stallion. 
Snorri could not have invented this, in all its complexity, on the basis 
of the Short Voluspa alone. We might rather suppose that he was com- 
bining the original Vqluspd with a far more detailed source. This source, 
whatever its form, was based on the myth of the shape- and sex-changing 
Loki, and of his motherhood of the monstrous horse, but it was enriched 
with the motives of folktale. It could be an oral tale, even a tale written 
before Snorri’s time. It could also be a light-hearted poem like the 

Snorri tells a number of tales of Loki not found in the older sources. 
Some of these explain kennings and other poetical expressions. Gold, 
Snorri tells us, may be called the ‘hair of Sif 5 (haddr Sifjar ). 25 This 
kenning is not found elsewhere, but it may well be genuine. 

Sif was the wife of Thor, and Loki, out of malice {til lavisi ) cut off her 
hair. The enraged husband seized him and forced him to go to the 
black elves, or dwarfs, sons of Ivaldi, and to prevail on them to forge a 
golden head of hair, which would grow like any other hair. Not only 
did the dwarfs forge the golden hair, but by a ruse, Loki persuaded 
them to forge other treasures as well. These treasures were distributed 
among the gods, and seem to symbolize their divine functions. Odinn 
received the spear, Gungnir, and the magic arm-ring, Draupnir ; Thor, 
besides the golden hair, received the hammer, Mjollnir, and Freyr re- 
ceived the ship, Skidbladnir, and the golden-bristled boar. 

In this story, confused as it is, Loki preserves much of his traditional 
character ; he is sly and rather cowardly and changes into the form of a 
fly. It is because of his mischief that the shaft of Thor’s hammer is too 
short. In the end, Loki cheated the dwarfs, to whom he owed his head, 
and they had to be content with sewing up his lips. 

We could suppose that stories like these had grown up to explain the 
scaldic kennings and the origin of the divine treasures, some of which 
figure so prominently in early poetry. 

The famous, jovial story of Th6r and his visit to the giant tiJtgardaloki 
belongs to another chapter. On this, as on another occasion, Thor was 
accompanied by Loki, as well as by his servant, the runner Thjdlfi. 
According to Snorri, it was Thjalfi who lamed one of Thor’s goats but, 
as already remarked, the Hymiskviba (str. 37) says it was Loki who did 

The Hymiskviba is, no doubt, older than Snorri, but Snorri probably 




represents the original tradition more faithfully on this point. Loki is 
the cause of most evil (Jiestu illu r<sdr), z& and so he could well be charged 
with crimes of which he was innocent. 

In Snorri’s story, Loki was on the side of Thor and competed, on 
Thor’s behalf, against Logi (fire), the agent of Utgardaloki, in eating 
meat. Snorri appears to be retelling a folktale, which has changed 
from the original myth in which Utgardaloki must have been Loki 

Saxo (VIII) tells a story about Utgardilocus which plainly shows this, 
and he derived his story from Icelanders, or men of Thule [a Tylensibus) . 
Saxo’s story is overlaid, even more heavily than Snorri’s, with inter- 
national motives of folktale. The hero Thorkillus, whose name seems to 
replace that of Thor, sets out from Denmark on a perilous journey to 
seek the monster Utgardilocus in the hope of treasure. The repulsive 
giant was laden hand and foot with enormous chains. Utgardilocus 
appears to be Loki, expelled from Asgard into Utgard, in the form 
which he took after he had caused the murder of Baldr. He was bound 
with fetters, and thus he will remain until the Ragnarok. 

I mentioned the story told in the prose attached to the Reginsm&l 
about the recurring trio Odinn, Hcenir, Loki and the Niflung gold. 
This story is repeated with little difference in the Vglsunga Saga (XIV), 
and it is used by Snorri 27 to explain kennings for gold, such as rogmalmr 
(metal of dissension) . 

As Snorri tells the story, the three gods came upon an otter by a 
waterfall, eating a salmon. Loki picked up a stone, killed the otter, and 
prided himself with having won an otter and a salmon with one throw. 

The gods took their bag and came to a farmer called Hreidmar, who 
was filled with witchcraft. When Hreidmar saw the otter, he said that 
it was his own son. He and the otter’s brothers laid hands on the gods 
and demanded weregild. The gods must fill the hide with gold and cover 
it as well. Odinn sent Loki to the world of the dark elves. There he 
found a dwarf, Andvari, who changed into a fish and swam in the 
water. Loki seized him and demanded all the gold which he kept in his 
rock. The dwarf attempted to conceal one golden ring, but Loki took it 
from him. The dwarf put a curse on the ring, saying that it would bring 
death to anyone who possessed it. Loki took the gold; the otter-skin 
was filled and covered, except for one whisker. Hreidmar noticed this, 
and so Odinn brought out the accursed ring. This gold, and in particu- 
larly the last ring, were to be the cause of the Niflung tragedy. 

While it is plain from the Reginsmal that Snorri did not invent this 
story, and hardly likely that he combined it with the story of the Niflung 
hoard, it would be difficult to believe that the association between the 


myth and the legend was old or fundamental. Its chief interest lies in the 
reappearance of the trio, Odinn, Hcenir, Loki, and in Loki’s function as 
Odinn’ s agent. It is, however, possible that this feature derives from 
the Haustlqng. 

Snorri gives another story about Loki, which has great interest for 
folklorists, 28 but has less to do with pagan conceptions of the god. After 
the murder of Baldr, Loki made off; he hid in a mountain, where he 
built a house with four doors, so that he could see in all directions. By 
day, he used to change into a salmon, swimming in a waterfall (Fran- 
angrsfors). He made a fishing-net, evidently the first ever made, but 
when the gods approached he threw it into the fire and took his salmon 
form in the river. When the gods arrived at the house, Kvasir, the 
wisest of them, saw the pattern of the net in the ashes, and knew that it 
was a device for catching fish. The gods made another like it and, after 
a chase, Thor grasped the salmon as he leapt over the net. The salmon 
slipped through Thor’s fingers, but Thor held him by the tail. That is 
why salmon are narrower at the tail. This same story is given in the 
prose colophon to the Lokasenna, although with few details. 

I have mentioned the punishment inflicted on Loki after the murder 
of Baldr. In the Lokasenna (str. 49, cf str. 50) Skadi, daughter of Thjazi, 
whose death had been caused by Loki, threatens that he will be bound 
to a rock with the guts of his rime-cold son. An allusion to this may also 
be seen in the Vgluspd (str. 35), although in obscure phrases. According 

to the oldest manuscript, the Codex Regius of the thirteenth century, 

the sibyl says : 

Hapt sa hon liggja 
undir Hveralundi, 
kegjarns (?) lfki 
Loka dfiekkjan ; 
bar sitr Sigyn, 
fieygi um sinum 
ver vel glyjud — 
vitud er enn, eda hvat? 

She saw a captive lying 

beneath Hveralund (the grove of hot springs?), 
like to the form 
of the guileful Loki. 

There stays Sigyn, 
over her husband 
little rejoicing. 

Do you understand me yet, and what more? 

Instead of the first half of this strophe, the fourteenth-century manu- 
script Hauksbok reads : 

ba kna Vala 
vigbQnd snua, 
heldr varu hardggr 
hopt, or bormum. 

These lines are particularly difficult to interpret, but if we accept the 
emendation Vala ) Vdli (nom.), they give the meaning: ‘then Vdii 



twists the bonds of war ; these chains of gut were firm enough . . .’ 29 If 
correct this probably implies that Vali was born only to take vengeance 
for Baldr and, as it seems, on Hod alone. 

This is not how Snorri understood the text and, presumably, not the 
form in which he received it, although the version of the Vgluspa which 
he followed at this point was closer to the Hauksbok than the Codex 
Regius. According to Snorri, the gods seized Loki together with his. 
two sons Vali and Nari (or Narfi). They turned Vali into a wolf, and he 
tore his brother to pieces ; they drew out his gut, which turned to iron, 
and with it they bound Loki to three rocks. The prose colophon to the 
Lokasenna, which must be related to Snorri’s work, tells the story in 
slightly different form; Loki was bound with the guts of his son Nan (or 
the son of Nari), and Loki’s son Narfi turned into a wolf. The penalty 
is not, in this passage, related immediately to the murder of Baldr. 

In the passage just quoted from the Vgluspa , Sigyn is said to stay 
sorrowful beside her husband. The scene is developed in the prose colo- 
phon mentioned and in closer detail by Snorri. SkaSi fastened a poison 
serpent over Loki’s head, and his wife stayed beside him, catching the 
drops of poison in a bowl. When the bowl is full, Sigyn goes to empty it, 
and a drop falls on Loki’s head ; he struggles and there is an earthquake. 
This scene is said to be depicted on the stone cross at Gosforth, Cum- 
berland, although some would interpret this panel in terms of biblical, 

rather than of pagan legend. 30 _ 

The apprehension that the chained Loki, like other wicked beings, 
would break loose when the time of Ragnarok drew near could be seen 
in the Baldrs Draumar (str. 14). The sibyl, whom OSinn had called from 
her grave, had answered his questions reluctantly. When she perceived 
his identity, she told him to make off, saying that Loki had broken 
loose and the Ragnarok was at hand. This same thought was expressed 
in the Vgluspa (str. 51), when, in her prophecy of the Ragnarok, the 
sibyl said that Loki would captain the ship which was to bring the sons 
of Muspell from the east. 

Snorri also knew of the belief that Loki would break his bonds and 
fight on the side of the demons, and his account is, in some things, more 
precise than those of the Baldrs Draumar and Vgluspa. Loki will be 
chained until the Ragnarok. He will arrive on the field of battle with 
the giant Hrym and all the frost-giants. All the followers of the death- 
goddess (Hel) will be with Loki. In the ensuing battle, Loki will meet his 
old enemy, Heimdall, and they will kill each other. 

Loki has been named several times as the thief of the Brlsing belt, or 
necklace. This motive recurs in the Syria Pattr, a fictitious tale found in 
the Flateyjarbok 31 of the late fourteenth century. Loki is presented as the 


son of Farbauti, said to be an old man {kart). He was exceptionally cun- 
ning and malicious [laviss) i and so he joined Odinn in AsgarS, and be- 
came his man, performing many difficult tasks for his master. 

Freyja was now living in AsgarS, and was OSinn’s mistress, although 
not always faithful. She dwelt in her own house, which was so secure 
that none could enter it against her will. One day she came upon four 
dwarfs, who lived in a rock. They were forging a necklace, which the 
goddess coveted. She offered them money, but they had no need of 
that; they would surrender the treasure only if Freyja would agree to 
spend the night with each one of them in turn. 

Loki got to know about this shameful bargain, and he told OSinn, 
who said that Loki must steal the necklace and bring it to him. Loki 
could not get into Freyja’s stronghold until he took the form of a fly. 
He spied Freyja asleep, wearing the necklace, but the clasp was below 
her. Loki turned into a flea, and bit the goddess on the cheek. She 
turned over, and then Loki was able to steal the jewel and take it to 

This tale, made the prelude to that of the eternal battle of the HjaSnin- 
gar {SnE. Sk. LXIII), must have been told for entertainment rather 
than for instruction, but it still preserves some of the traditional charac- 
teristics of Loki : he is OSinn’s agent, and a sly shape-changer, flying 
and taking the form of an insect. The late medieval author of this tale 
probably drew on older written sources. 

Scholars have given much attention to Scandinavian folk-tales, 
recorded in recent times, in which Loki is named. 32 These tales are 
laden with popular motives, such as are commonly applied to Lucifer 
and Beelzebub ; Loki brings fleas and sows weeds. The tales contribute 
little to the pagan conceptions of Loki but, since they are found over so 
wide an area, they show how widely Loki was known and how long his 
name was remembered. They may also show that Loki was predis- 
posed to the influences of the devils of Christian legend. 

Some of the folktales were perhaps influenced by the texts mentioned 
in this chapter, particularly those recorded in Iceland and the Faroe 
Islands. The Faroe ballad, Loka-tdttur, probably composed in the later 
Middle Ages, presents the familiar trio OSinn, Hoenir, Loki. 

These are the chief sources in which Loki appears, and it is time to 
think of his place in the Norse hierarchy. In the oldest literary source, 
as in the latest, he was closely associated with OSinn ; he was OSinn’s 
companion and friend and, in the days of old, they had been foster- 
brothers. A third god, Hcenir, was seen in the Haustlgng , and again in 
later sources, in the company of these two. 

Next to nothing can be told of Hcenir. According to Snorri, 33 he was 




one of the two whom the ^Esir sent to the Vanir at the end of the war 
between them. The other was Munir, wisest of the JE sir. Hcenir was a 
noble figure, and the Vanir made him a chieftain. His weakness was in 
his wits ; he could never reach a decision unless Mimir was beside him. 
If he attended council when Mfmir was away, he could only say ‘let 
others decide’ {radi adrir). The Vanir thought they had been cheated and, 
in revenge, they chopped off Mfmir’s head and sent it to the Tssir. 
Odinn pickled the head with herbs, and it talks to him, and he derives 
much of his occult wisdom from it. Although no such story is told else- 
where, allusion to the great wisdom of Mfmir’s head is made in two of 
the Eddaic poems, the Vqluspd (str. 46) and Sigrdrifumdl (str. 14). 

As kennings for Loki, Thjodolf used such expressions as ‘Hcenir’ s 
friend’. Snorri 34 gives some other expressions by which Hcenir may be 
designated. He is the ‘swift god’, the ‘long leg’, and aurkonungr , which 
may mean ‘mud- or marsh-king’. 35 According to the Sqgubrot , 36 Hcenir 
was the most fearful of all the gods. 

The only other source in which Hcenir figures prominently is the 
Vgluspa. He will survive the Ragnarok (str. 63) and read the auguries 
(hlautvid kjosa). In an earlier passage of the same poem (str. 18), Hcenir 
appears with two others, Odinn and Lodur, to give life to the inani- 
mate tree-trunks and make them man and woman. Each of the three 
gods made his own contribution and Hcenir’s was odr, which Snorri 37 
seems to interpret as vit ok hmring (wit and movement). This is sur- 
prising when we remember how witless Hoenir appeared to be when 
Snorri described him in the Ynglinga Saga. 

Many explanations of Hcenir have been offered on the basis of his 
name, his long legs and his supposed association with mud or marsh, 
but it is doubtful whether their authors have meant all of them seri- 
ously. He is the barnyard cock, the swan, the white stork and, finally, 
the black stork ( ciconia nigra), which is known in Swedish dialect as 
odensvala (Odinn’ s swallow). 38 

Little more can be told of Hcenir, except that in the earlier sources he 
appears only beside Odinn, and seems to usurp Odinn’s place when he 
endows mankind with odr. If Hcenir’s name is, in fact, that of a bird, or 
derived from a bird-name, he must be Odinn’s bird. In poetic language, 
Odinn’s bird, whether he is called a swan, falcon, seagull, blackcock, is 
a raven. Odinn’s ravens, Huginn and Muninn represent his intellectual 
qualities (thought and memory), and this perhaps explains why ff is 
Hcenir who gaves odr to men. When divorced from their master, Odinn’s 
ravens could have little wit, for it was his wit which they incorporated. 
When separated from Mfmir, Hcenir had no wits, and was no better 
than a barnyard cock. But Mfmir’s wits were Odinn’s wits. Odinn con- 



suited the pickled head of Mfmir in times of stress, and Hcenir de- 
pended on the living Mfmir. In this case, Hoenir appears to be little 
more than an aspect of Odinn. 

In the Vqluspd (str. 18), it was not Loki, but Lodur who appeared 
beside Odinn and Hcenir. Even if it were not for the superficial simi- 
larity of their names, readers might think that Lodur was another 
name for Loki. Lodur, according to this text, gave the race of men la 
... ok litu goda, which Snorri, who did not follow the Vqluspd precisely, 
replaced with dsjonu, mdl ok heyrn ok sjdn (appearance, speech, hearing and 
vision). Litu goda may be interpreted as ‘good countenance’, but la has 
puzzled all the commentators. According to some, it means ‘warmth’ 
and is related ultimately to the name of Vulcan, god of fire. 35 This inter- 
pretation is perhaps influenced by supposed etymologies of Lodur and 
Loki, for no ward Id meaning ‘warmth’ is recorded in other Norse or 
even Germanic texts. Snorri gave Id as a poetic word for ‘hair’, a mean- 
ing not altogether impossible in this context. The homonym Mis used for 
‘sea’, ‘water’, and the kenning oddla (spear-water) means ‘blood’. The 
old interpretation of the word in the Vqluspd, based on this usage, is 
perhaps nearest to the truth. It would then imply ‘blood’ and the other 
liquids of the body, corresponding with the sap of the trees from which 
men were made. 40 

To return to the etymologies of Lodurr and Loki. The first has been 
equated with logapore, which is read in the inscription on a clasp, dating 
from about ad 600, which was found at Nordendorf, near Augsburg. 41 
Whether it is a name or not, logapore is there combined with Wodan and 
Wigiponar (?), perhaps equivalent to the Norse 6 dim and Vingporr. It is 
sometimes said to mean ‘fire-bringer’, but others identify it with Old 
English logdor, logeper (magician). Loki (also Lokki) is said to be a 
shortened, pet name for Lodur. If this is true, it provides evidence that 
Loki was known in continental Germany as early as the seventh cen- 
tury, but the arguments are tenuous. 

J. Grimm, 42 and many later scholars, supposed that Loki was an 
alternative form of logi (flame) , and found support for this in Snorri’s 
story of the contest in which Loki was pitted against Logi, but the diffi- 
culties are manifold and obvious. 

Lodur has also been seen as a god of a kind quite different from Loki, 
and as a fertility-god, whose name in earlier form would be Lodverr , the 
counterpart of Lodkona, a goddess whose name is deduced from Swedish 
place-names. 43 These names are related to Gothic liudan ‘to grow’, but 
if Lodurr is related to them, we are faced with the difficulty that an 
Icelandic scald of the twelfth century rimes Lodurr with gloda, showing 
that, for him, the root vowels were identical. 44 



Speculative suggestions like those last quoted have, at least, shown 
how little etymology can help in determining the significance of mythi- 
cal figures of whom records are so poor. 

In spite of such difficulties, Loki and Lodur may still be identical, 
rather because the one takes the place of the other in the trio than be- 
cause their names sound somewhat alike. It is worth adding that 
Odinn is called ‘the friend of Lodur’ (Lodurs vinr) by the tenth century 
scald Eyvind the Plagiarist, and again by Hauk Valdisarson 45 in the 
twelfth century. Another early poet called Odinn ‘the friend of Lopt 
(Loki)’ ( Lopts vinr), and this may support the suggestion that LoSur 
and Loki were one and the same. 

The sources have presented Loki as the companion and friend of 
Thor; in the tale of the Prymskvida he helped Thor to recover his ham- 
mer, but he was a false friend (vilgi tryggr )* 6 

Loki’s relations with Odinn were closer ; he was Odinn’s companion 
friend and foster-brother. Both of them were shape-changers, sex- 
changers and deceivers. 

It could be said that Loki was not a god, because he was son of the 
giant Farbauti . 47 But the differences between gods and giants were not 
fundamental. Odinn was son of a giantess, and even Thor ? the arch- 
enemy of giants, must have had giant blood in his veins if he was son of 
Odinn. Thor also had a giant mistress Jarnsaxa. The giantess Skadi, 
after her father’s death, was accepted as a goddess. 

This implies that the dualist system, according to which gods were 
good and giants were bad, developed late in Norse heathendom. 
Odinn was, in many things, bad, and Loki was generally bad, although 
he sometimes got the gods out of difficulties at the expense of giants. 

Loki has been seen as a ‘trickster ’, 48 even as the prototype of the 
joker in popular drama, wielding a stick instead of a spear or sword , 49 as 
the ‘fool’ in the Morris dances wields a harmless pig’s bladder on the 
end of his whip. It is difficult to believe that the father of the death- 
goddess, of the World-serpent and of evil monsters of every kind could 
be so light-hearted. 

Loki has been compared with many mythical and semi-mythical 
figures found throughout Europe and further afield. A. Olrik , 60 con- 
centrating on the chained Loki and his part in the Ragnarok after he 
had broken his bonds, found closely similar figures in legends recently 
recorded in the Caucasus. Stories are told there of chained monsters, 
struggling and causing earthquakes, when they are tormented by 
eagles and serpents. One day, these monsters will break loose and 
destroy the world. 

The bound Loki must be related to the bound monsters of the Cauca- 



sus, as well as to the bound Prometheus, but Olrik ’s interpretation of 
this relationship is difficult to accept. As he thought, the conception of 
the wicked Loki, bound and struggling until the Ragnarok, was bor- 
rowed by the Norsemen from the Caucasians. The intermediaries were 
the Goths, who were active in south Russia in the first centuries of 
our era . 51 

This hypothesis is too complicated to be readily acceptable, but 
Olrik was probably right in supposing that the bound Loki, one day to 
break loose, was foreign to Norse mythology. It is easier to believe that 
this chapter in Loki’s history was derived from Christian legend, 
according to which Antichrist lies bound in Hell, and will break loose 
before the Day of Judgment. Just as Baldr, in his innocence, was pre- 
disposed to the influences of Christ, so Loki was predisposed to those of 
Satan. The Caucasians and the Icelanders could, independently, be- 
live that the monster’s struggle would cause an earthquake. 

Loki has been compared with another legendary figure, Bricriu of 
the Evil Tongue, who plays so prominent a part in Irish legend of the 
Ulster cycle . 52 Bricriu is clever, and his wits may be useful to the heroes, 
but he is fundamentally malicious, provoking conflict ‘between the 
kings, the leaders . . . till they slay one another, man for man’, and 
‘enmity between father and son, so that it will come to mutual slaughter.’ 
Bricriu will ‘make a quarrel between mother and daughter’, and he will 
‘set the two breasts of each Ulster woman at variance, so that they 
come to deadly blows . . ,’ 53 

Bricriu is a coward and keeps out of battle, and ends in a ridiculous 
death, when the bulls fighting in the Tdin 5i trample him into the 
ground. He bears a distinct resemblance to Loki, but when he boasts of 
provoking such strife between the heroes that the dead will be more 
numerous than the living, he is more like Odinn than Loki. Odinn in- 
cited kinsman against kinsman : 

. . . med sifj ungum between kinsmen 

sakrunar bar sowed dissension 55 

or he says himself: 

atta ek jgfrum I incited the princes 

en aldri sasttak never made peace between them 56 

It may be added that Odinn, god of war, will never join in battle him- 
self until the Ragnarok. 

G. Dumezil , 57 who studied the legends of the Ossetes and of other 
peoples of the Caucasus, drew attention to two figures in the heroic 



cycle of the Narts. The legends about the Narts were recorded in the 
nineteenth and twentieth centuries, 68 and it is believed that, although 
presented as supermen, they were originally gods. Among their number 
were two, Soslan (or Sosryko) and Syrdon. Soslan was fine and noble, 
and beloved as Baldr, but Syrdon resembled Loki. Other Narts treated 
Syrdon as a menial; he accompanied them as Loki accompanied 
greater gods. Like Loki, Syrdon sometimes got his masters out of diffi- 
culties, but he was cunning, treacherous and gifted, as Loki was, with 
power to change his shape. As Loki caused Baldr’s death, Syrdon 
caused the death of Soslan, although he used very different means. 
Soslan’s body was invulnerable except at one point, the legs or knees. 
Syrdon, in one of his disguises, discovered Soslan’s weakness, just as 
Loki discovered that of Baldr and, by a series of ruses, caused a mys- 
terious toothed wheel to cut off Soslan’s legs. The wheel may symbolize 
the sun, and the story of Soslan’s death may, in origin, be a nature 
myth, as that of the death of Baldr might be too. 

In the first edition of his work on Loki, Dumezil called attention to the 
similarities between Loki and Syrdon, but drew no conclusion : ‘annon- 
§ons~le tout net : nous ne sommes pas en etat d’apporter une solution 
probable’. 59 He rejected the suggestion that the one figure was modelled 
on the other, and did not believe that similar social conditions could 
have evoked both of them independently. Nor, in view of the differences 
between Syrdon and Loki, was Dumezil satisfied that they descended 
from a common Indo-European prototype. 

In the second edition of his Loki, &0 Dumezil was less confident in 
rejecting the Indo-European hypothesis. In another book, 61 he was 
more positive. He there compared a third story with those of Syrdon 
and Loki, found in the Maharabhata. He believed that Snorri and the 
Maharabhata showed the closest agreement, and that the Ossete story 
preserved : ‘le dernier debris de la version scythique’ of the same Indo- 
European myth, of which traces were found in India, Iceland and 
elsewhere. 63 

For the study of Norse mythology, the importance of Dumezil’s work 
on Loki lies in his proof that it was not Snorri who made Loki the 
plotter of Baldr’s death ( rddbani ). This myth of Baldr’s death was known 
in the tenth century and perhaps long before. There was also another 
version of the myth, according to which Hod killed Baldr unaided. It is 
not yet possible to say which is the older version, nor is it possible to dis- 
miss the hypothesis that Loki, as well as Hod, were, in origin, aspects of 
Odinn. Snorri 63 said it was Loki who caused most evil but, according 
to the Helgakvida Hundingsbana II (str. 34), Odinn causes all evil. 


It was noticed that Gif Uggason, the Icelandic poet of the tenth 
century, described a struggle between Loki, cunning son of Fdrbauti, 
and another figure, the son of nine mothers. The two had struggled for 
possession of the beautiful hafnyra or ‘sea-kidney’. Snorri, when he 
quoted this verse, explained that the son of nine mothers was Heim- 
dall, and he identified the ‘sea-kidney’ with the Brising necklace 
(• Brisingamen ). He added that the gods had fought in the shape of seals, 
and said that Gif had described the battle at length. In the Gylfaginning 
(XXXVIII), Snorri again presented Heimdall as the mortal enemy of 
Loki, and said that they would kill each other at the end of the Ragnarok. 

Snorri had more than this to tell of Heimdall. Earlier in the Gylfa- 
ginning (XV), he quoted a poem called Heimdalargaldr (or Heimdallar- 
galdr), the ‘Magic Song of Heimdall’, in which the god himself had 
exclaimed, as if in triumph: 

niu emk meyja (v.l. mcedra) mqgr, I am son of nine maidens (or mothers), 

mu emk systra sonr I am son of nine sisters. 

The mysterious birth of Heimdall by his nine mothers is related in 
much closer detail in the ‘Short Voluspa’ : 

35. Var 9 einn borinn 
1 ardaga 

rammaukinn mjqk, 
ragna kindar ; 
niu baru jbann 
naddggfgan (?) mann, 
jQtna meyjar 
vi 5 jardar jprgm. . . . 

37. Hann Gjalp urn bar, 
hann Greip urn bar, 
bar hann Eistla . 
ok Eyrgjafa 

There was one born 
in days of old, 
filled with strength, 
of the race of gods ; 
nine bore him, 

that weapon-glorious (?) man, 
daughters of giants, 
on the edge of earth. ... 

Gjalp bore him, 

Greip bore him, 

Eistla bore him 
and Eyrgjafa ; 





hann bar Ulfrun 
ok Angeyja, 
Imbr ok Atla 
ok Jarnsaxa. 

Ulfrun bore him 
and Angeyja, 
Imdr and Atla 
and Jarnsaxa. 

Jiar VQrbr goda the guardian of gods 

drekkr 1 vaeru ranni, drinks in his peaceful hall 

gladr, in go 3 a mjQ 3 . merrily the splendid mead. 

38. Sa var aukinn 
jardar megni, 
svalk^ldum sae 
ok sonar dreyra 

He was made strong 
with the force of the earth, 
with the cold sea 

and the blood of the sacrificial boar ( ?) 

In another passage (. Skaldskaparmal XVI), Snorri spoke again of 
Heimdall and the Magic Song. He said there: ‘HeimdalPs head is a 
name for “sword” ’ ; this is related in the Heimdalargaldr, and because of 
it, the ‘head’ has been called the ‘fate (death) of Heimdall’. Heimdall, 
as Snorri said, was struck to death with a man’s head. 

The kenning Heimdalls hjqrr (Heimdall’s sword) was used by a certain 
Bjarni 1 in the lines : 

Var 3 , Jsats fylkis foer 5 u, 
farverk, braa merki, 
gQr var 5 heipt, or hjgrvi 
Heimdalls vi 5 ir seima. 

It was a cruel deed 
when the trees of gold (men) 
dragged the stars of eyelashes (eyes) 
from the prince’s ‘sword of Heimdall’ (head) 
an act of hatred was done 

In these lines, the poet perhaps alluded to the cruel blinding of King 
Magnus by his rival Harald Gilli in 1135. 2 In another poem ascribed, 
although probably wrongly, to Grettir, the same kenning is used in the 
form Heimdala hjqrr . 3 

These introductory sentences have already shown Heimdall as a 
complicated and enigmatical figure. He was born in days of old, the 
son of nine giantesses, he was killed by a man’s head, he was the mortal 
enemy of Loki and, if Snorri is to be believed, he will face death again 
when he and Loki will kill each other at the end of the Ragnarok. 

Difficult as it is to understand statements like these, it is evident that 
Heimdall filled a certain place in the Norse hierarchy in earlier times, 
although the memory of him was somewhat faded by the time the ex- 
tant sources were composed. 

Heimdall’s position among the gods is shown partly in the Grimnismdl 
(Words of Grfmnir, OSinn), where the poet lists the dwellings of the 

13. Himinbjprg eru in attu, Himinbjorg is the eighth 

en j)ar Heimdall and there Heimdall, it is said, 

kveda valda veum ; rules his divine dwellings ; 


Snorri ( Gylfaginning , XV) quoted this strophe with slight varia- 
tion. According to him, Heimdall was called ‘the white god’ (kviti dss ) ; 
he was great and ‘holy’, and was borne by nine maidens, all sisters. He 
dwelt in Himinbjorg, which stands by the bridge Bifrqst ( Bilrqst ), i.e. the 
quaking path, the rainbow. He stays at the edge of heaven to guard the 
bridge against the rock-giants. He needs less sleep than a bird, and can 
see a hundred leagues by night as by day. He can also hear grass 
growing on the fields and wool on the sheep. He has the trumpet 
Gjallarhorn (The ringing horn), and its note is heard throughout all 

Heimdall appears in other sources as the ‘guardian’ or ‘watchman’ of 
the gods, and his wakefulness is emphasized. 4 The reasons for Heim- 
dall’s wakefulness are given in the Vqluspd (str. 46). At the first signs of 
the Ragnarok, Heimdall will blow his horn, which is raised aloft. 
According to the dualistic conceptions of the author of the Vqluspd , the 
god knew that evil monsters were approaching to do battle with gods 
and men. 

Heimdall was mentioned in an earlier passage of the Vqluspd (str. 27), 
which is less easy to understand. The sibyl says that she knows that die 
hljod of Heimdall is hidden, or pledged beneath the ever-bright, holy 
tree, i.e. the Yggdrasili. 

The first difficulty is in the meaning of the word hljod. This has often 
been rendered ‘trumpet’. 6 Snorri 6 may perhaps have understood the 
obscure lines in this way, when he wrote that the god Mfmir was filled 
with wisdom because he drank from the well beneath the tree out of the 
Gjallarhorn, suggesting that the horn was made for drinking as well as 
for blowing. 

It is possible that the Gjallarhorn, together with OSinn’s eye and all 
wit and wisdom, was stored beneath the Yggdrasili, or in the holy well, 
but improbable that the author of the Vqluspd alluded to the horn with 
the word hljod. Old Norse provides no other instance of the meaning 
‘trumpet’ for hljod. It sometimes means ‘noise’, even ‘music’, but also 
‘silence, listening, hearing’. 

Since the hearing of Heimdall was so precious, we may suspect that 
this was the object hidden at the base of the holy tree. It may be con- 
ceived in concrete form, as one of Heimdall’s ears. OQinn was gifted 
with exceptional vision and, from his seat Hlidskjdlj \ he could see 
throughout all worlds. But Odinn had only one eye ; the other lay in the 



well of Mimir, beneath the World Tree, because, according to Snorri, 
he had pledged it in exchange for knowledge. Thus, the two gods, 
Odinn and Heimdall, seem each to have pledged or pawned one of 
their most precious gifts. 7 

Heimdall was also named in the first strophe of the Vgluspd where, 
according to the interpretation now generally accepted, men were 
addressed as ‘sons of HeimdalF (megir Heimdallar ) . 8 

The conception of Heimdall as the father of mankind is developed in 
another text, the Rigspula. In its present form this poem is introduced 
with a few words of prose. It is told there that, according to ancient 
tales, the god Heimdall walking by the seashore, came to a human 
dwelling and called himself Rigr. He found a couple there called Ai and 
Edda (great-grandfather and great-grandmother). They entertained 
the visitor with coarse bread and, when night fell, he lay down be- 
tween them. After three nights, Rig went on his way and, nine months 
later, Edda bore a son. He had dark skin, and they called him Pratt 
(Thrall). He grew up with an ugly face and gnarled hands. He did 
manual work and married an uncomely woman, Pir (Bondwoman) . 
The race of thralls is descended from their children. 

Rig went on to another house, where he found Aft and Amma (grand- 
father and grandmother). He slept for three nights between them, and 
after nine months Amma bore a son called Karl (Freeman) . The race 
of Freemen descended from Karl and his bride. 

Rig went on his way, until he came to a third couple, Fadir and 
Modir (Father and Mother), living in luxury and engaged in aristo- 
cratic pursuits. Nine months afterwards, MoQir bore a son, called Jarl 
(Earl, Prince). His hair was blond, and his eyes glittered like those of a 
serpent. He grew up skilled with the bow, the spear and the horse. One 
day Rig came to him from under a bush; he acknowledged his son, 
gave him his own name and taught him the runes. 

When Jarl grew up, he had twelve noble sons, but Kon, the youngest, 
was noblest of all. Like OQinn he understood the runes and could blunt 
weapons and, like Sigurd, he understood the speech of birds. The end 
of the poem is missing, but it breaks off when a crow is telling Jarl of 
two princes, Danr and Danpr , who live in even greater splendour than 
he does. 

This poem is found only in one manuscript of Snorri’s Edda (Wor- 
mianus), written about the middle of the fourteenth century, where it is 
commonly believed to be interpolated. There has been less agreement 
about the date of the poem itself. Some have assigned it to the tenth or 
eleventh century, or even to the ninth, 9 but others have argued that it 
dates from the twelfth or thirteenth century, and found signs of post- 


classical taste in its metrical and linguistic forms. 10 It has been re- 
garded as the product of learned speculation about the origins of the 
three social classes. This suggestion would be more convincing if the 
ancestor of these three classes were Noah or even Adam. 11 

Whatever may be the age of the Rigspula , it is hard to doubt that it 
incorporates certain ancient traditions. The names Rigr, Danr , Danpr 
recur in ancient genealogies of kings of Denmark, albeit in varying 
order. 12 The name Rigr is now generally held to be borrowed from the 
Irish word ri (gen. rig, king), 13 and commentators have seen other 
signs of Celtic influence in the poem, some believing that it originated 
in the northern British Isles or in Ireland. 14 

The question why, in the prose introduction to the Rigspula, Rig is 
identified with Heimdall, is no easier to answer. This is perhaps be- 
cause the redactor knew a tradition, according to which Heimdall was 
the father of men. But if this tradition is an ancient one, the two gods 
must have been identified in early times. 

Heimdall has many names. Besides being the white or shining god, 
he is called the ‘Golden- toothed’ ( Gullintanni ) and, according to 
Snorri, he owned the horse Gulltoppr (Golden forelock). Another of his 
names was Hallinskidi, probably meaning the one with the leaning 
stick, or sticks. 15 A poet of the tenth century alluded to Heimdall’s or 
Hallinski'5i’s golden teeth, calling gold ‘the teeth of Hallinskidi’. 16 

Strangely enough, Hallinskidi is also given as a poetic name for ram. 
The identity of the two names might be regarded as accidental, were it 
not that the ram is also called Heimdali . 17 This could mean ‘the one in 
the home-dale’, but it is also the form of Heimdall’s name used in the 
poem assigned to Grettir and quoted above. 

Although this has frequently been denied, it is difficult to escape the 
conclusion that Heimdall, if he did not appear in the form of a ram, was 
associated with the ram as Thor was with the goat, Freyr with the boar 
and horse, OSinn with wolves and ravens and a horse with eight legs. 
He could, as has been suggested, 18 have developed the same significance 
for sheep-breeders as Freyr evidently had for corn-growers and probably 

There is some evidence that the ram was a sacral beast in the eyes of 
Scandinavians and of other Germanic peoples. 19 While the Goths 
called a sacrifice soups, Norsemen called a sheep saudr, and both words 
are related to sjoda (to cook). The Ljosvetninga Saga (IV) contains a 
peculiar story of a man who planned to deprive another of his share of a 
godord. He said : ‘we must redden ourselves in sacrificial blood (godablodi) 
according to ancient custom, and he slaughtered a ram, claiming Arn- 
steinn’s godord for himself, and he reddened his hands in the blood of 


the ram.’ The use of the personal name Hrutr (ram), although less 
common than Bjgrn (Bear), Hrafn (Raven), Jjlfr (Wolf), Galti (Boar), 
etc, may also suggest that the ram was held sacred to one god or 

Heimdall is said to be son of 6dinn and of nine mothers. 20 This 
mysterious story may imply that he was born and was to die nine times. 21 
At least we know that he was once killed by a man’s head, and will be 
killed again in the Ragnarok. 

Scholars since the early nineteenth century have often seen Heim- 
dall’s mothers as the waves of the sea, who are called daughters of the 
sea-god, d£gir, and said to number nine. 23 

G. Dumezil 23 has lately found support for this view in an unexpected 
source. According to a Welsh antiquarian, who published his results in 
1909, breaking waves used to be called the sheep of the mermaid, 
Gwenhidwy, but the ninth of them was called the ram ! Interesting as 
it is, this story is not well authenticated, although in Icelandic, as well 
as in other traditions, the third wave, the sixth or the ninth, were par- 
ticularly dangerous or portentous. 24 

There are some reasons to doubt that the mothers of Heimdall were the 
waves, daughters of iEgir. dSgir’s nine daughters were twice named, by 
a poet, probably of the twelfth century and, with slight variation, by 
Snorri. 25 Their names are typical words for ‘wave’, e.g. Bylgja, HrQnn, 
Udr. The mothers of Heimdall were plainly stated in the Short Voluspa 
to be giantesses, and the names there given to them are mostly recorded 
in other texts as names for giantesses. 

Celtic sources have been invoked repeatedly to explain various 
features of Heimdall, his by-name Rigr and his strange parentage. 26 
The story that he was killed with a man’s head may also have affinities 
with Celtic tradition. 

It is told in a version of ‘The Death of Conchobar’ 27 that the Ulster 
heroes used to drag the brain from the head of every warrior whom 
they slew, mix it with lime and make a hard ball of it. Conall the Vic- 
torious used to carry the heads of his victims as trophies. 28 It was he 
who slew Mes-Gegra, King of Leinster, in single combat, as is related 
in ‘The Siege of Howth’. 29 Conall drew out the brain of his adversary, 
hardened it and boasted of it until it fell into the hands of the Con- 
naught warrior, Cet. Cet carried the brain in his girdle in every battle 
against the Ultonians, hoping to slay one of them with it, for it had 
been foretold that Mes-Gegra would take vengeance after death. In 
one battle Cet employed a cunning ruse and got into range of the Ulster 
King Conchobar. He fixed the brain in his sling and drove it into the 
head of the King. The King survived as a cripple for a while, but when 


he heard of the death of Christ on the Cross, he was overcome by such 
emotion that Mes-Gegra’ s brain jumped out of his head, and this was 
his end. 

In the, ‘Story of Mac Datho’s Pig’, 30 the same Conall boasted that he 
never slept a night without the head of a Connaught man under his 
head or knee. As he spoke, Conall took the head of a Connaught war- 
rior from his belt and hurled it at Cet’s chest with such force that 
blood spurted over his lips. 

Stories of this kind may seem less strange in the Irish setting than in 
the Icelandic, but this need not imply that the Icelanders derived their 
story from the Irish. It might equally well derive from a Celto-German 
tradition, as some of the stories of Sigurd also seem to. 31 In either 
case, the fundamental significance of this story remains obscure. 

Readers may have noticed some inconsistency in the form of the god’s 
name. It appears in the forms Heimdallr, Heimdalr and probably Heim- 
dali. z% Many different explanations of these forms have been given, but 
few of them contribute to our understanding of the god’s character. 
The most usual form, and that best authenticated is Heimdallr, and the 
other two might be explained on phonological or folk-etymological 
grounds. 33 

The masc. Heindallr naturally leads us to think of the goddess-name 
Mardqll, which is used by scalds and is applied by Snorri 34 to Freyja, 
although Mardqll may originally have been another goddess. This 
might imply that, while Mardoll was a goddess of the sea (man), 
Heimdall was a god of the world. We are left to decide the meaning of 
the masc. dallr and the fern. dqll. The most satisfying suggestion so far 
offered is that of J. de Vries : 36 -dallr, according to this suggestion, 
would derive from a root dal - with a suffix -pu, accounting for the long 
41 - . The root is associated with Greek 6aXXco (to be luxuriant) and 
0 <x>.ep6c; (blooming) and again with Gothic dulps (feast). The word 
may be seen again in the late Icelandic dallur glossed by Bjorn Hall- 
dorsson 36 as arbor prolifera. No instance of this later dallur is recorded, but 
if the gloss is genuine, it leads us back to the association, frequently re- 
marked, 37 between Heimdall and the World Tree, at whose roots the 
god’s hearing is hidden. Heimdall may thus be raised to the dignity of 
Odinn, whose eye was hidden beneath the tree, and who himself hung 
upon it. 

While Heimdall has certain affinities with Odinn, he has others with 
Thor. Thor was accompanied by his goats and Heimdall, in a manner 
not clearly defined, was associated with a ram. Thor defends the world 
of gods and men against giants, and Heimdall is the watchman, able to 
apprehend the first signs of danger. 




But Heimdall has affinities, not only with Cdinn and Thor ; he is also 
said to see into the future ‘like the other Vanir’ (sm Vanir adrir ).* 8 
Attempts to interpret this line in other ways are forced and it is plain 
that, whatever his age, the author of the Prymskvida thought that Heim- 
dall belonged to the Vanir. 

The watchman of the gods dwells in Himinbjorg (Rocks of Heaven), 39 
beside the frail rainbow-bridge Bilrost (Bifrost), at the point where it 
reaches the sky. When the signs of doom appear, he will sound his ring- 
ing horn (Gjallarhorn), 40 and, according to Snorri, he will awaken all 
the gods to battle against Loki and the monsters. 

Many readers have found the holy watchman, blowing his horn 
at the end of the world, alien to Norse heathendom. He is reminiscent 
of the Archangel Michael who, according to a Christian legend wide- 
spread in the early Middle Ages, will awaken the dead with the blast of 
his trumpet. 41 In the Norwegian visionary poem, Draumkvade , 42 prob- 
ably of the thirteenth century, St Michael appears mounted on a white 
horse, as Heimdall once appeared on his splendid Gulltoppr (Golden 
forelock). 43 Michael carried the horn under his arm and, when he 
blew it, the dead must come forth to judgment. 

In the Draumkvade Michael faces Grutte Grey-beard, who rides from 
the north, mounted on a black, wearing a black hat. Grutte is perhaps 
the diabolical Odinn. 44 According to Snorri, the shining white Heimdall 
will face Loki, arch-enemy of gods and men. 

It seems that Heimdall has suffered as Loki and perhaps Baldr did. 
They were not in origin Christian figures. Loki, in his evil was predis- 
posed to the influence of Satan, and Heimdall, the watchman, was 
predisposed to the influence of Michael, foremost of guardian- angels 
(jylgjuengill, vardhaldsengill) . 45 

As was said at the beginning of this chapter, Heimdall appears to be 
an ancient god, whose memory had faded by the time the extant 
sources were composed. He has some affinities with Odinn and perhaps 
some with the Vanir, if rather more with Thor. 

J. de Vries, in a recent paper, 46 strongly emphasized Heimdall’s 
relations with Thor, and assigned him to the second class in Dumezil’s 
tripartite hierarchy; while Thor was the warrior, Heimdall was the 
watchman or sentry, which is also a military function. Dumezil him- 
self has developed rather different thoughts. 47 He has seen Heimdall as 
the ‘first’ god (primus), the god of the beginning, and has shown that, 
in several things, Heimdall resembles the Indian Vayu and sdll more 
the Roman Janus. Pursuing these thoughts, Dumezil understands from 
str. i of the Vqluspa* 8 that Heimdall is ancestor of all the gods. If this is 
true, Snorri 42 must be mistaken when he says that Heimdall may be 



called ‘son of Odinn’ (sour 6 dins) . Dumezil 50 has shown how dangerous 
it is to under-estimate Snorri’s knowledge of Norse myths, and it is 
perhaps arbitrary to reject this plain statement on the basis of a ques- 
tionable interpretation of the Vqluspd, which Snorri knew well. 




The War of the rEsir and Vanir~Njord—Freyr-Fr 65 i-Nerthus-Ing—Freyja 

All the gods may be called TEsir (sing, dss; fem. pi. dsynjur) , but 
dwelling in their midst were gods who came of a distinct tribe, the 
Vanir. The origins of these names have been discussed widely, 1 but so 
far the discussion has proved sterile, as have discussions of many mytho- 
logical names. 

The War of the Msir and Vanir 

Other gods might help to promote the fertility of crops and herds, but 
the Vanir were the more specialized gods of fertility. They live in peace 
and friendship among the ^Esir, but myth tells us that this has not 
always been so. In primeval days there had been a bitter war between 
the two tribes, to which Snorri alludes twice in rather varying terms. 
His most coherent account of it is given in the Tnglinga Saga (IV). 
Here as elsewhere, Snorri has reduced the pagan gods to champions 
and military leaders. 

The Msir lived in Asia or Asaland ( Asakeimr ) , where their chief city was 
As gar dr . 1 Their neighbours were the Vanir, living in Vanaheimr or V ana- 
land. This name is associated with Tanais, the classical name for the 
River Don. 2 

OSinn, as Snorri says, led his army against the Vanir, but they resisted 
stoutly. First one side and then the other was successful. They plun- 
dered each other’s territories until, growing tired of the struggle, they 
concluded peace on equal terms. Each party sent hostages to the other. 
The Msir sent Hoenir and Mfmir to the Vanir, 3 while the Vanir, in 
exchange, sent NjorS and his son Freyr. With these, according to the 
Tnglinga Saga, they sent Kvasir, the wisest of their race. In this last re- 
mark, Snorri contradicts himself, for he had said in the Skdldskaparmal 
(IV) that Kvasir, whose blood was to be the foundation of poetry, 
was created from the saliva of the Vanir and ALsir, as they spat into a 
communal cauldron while concluding peace. The kenning Kvasis dreyri 



(Kvasir’s blood, poetry) suggests that this form of the story is the 
closer to the original. 4 

Poets sometimes say that Njord was reared in Vanaheim, and that 
he was sent to the dssir as a hostage, 5 but they seldom allude to the war 
between the two tribes of gods. Only in the Vqluspa (strs. 21-4) is this 
war described, and there in such allusive terms that some have denied 
that the strophes have to do with this primeval war at all. 6 They have 
preferred to see in them a battle between gods and giants, but difficul- 
ties become only greater if this interpretation is adopted. If, however, it 
is allowed that the war described in the Vqluspa was fought between 
iEsir and Vanir, it must be admitted that the myth was a commonplace 
to the author’s audience. His object was not to instruct, but to give life 
to a tale which his hearers knew. 

I attempt to translate and explain the relevant strophes, realizing 
that every rendering and interpretation must be partly subjective. 

2r. Pat man hon folkvig 

She remembers the war 7 

fyrst 1 heimi. 

first in the world, 

er Gullveigu 

when they riddled 

geirum studdu 

Gullveig with spears 8 

ok 1 hgll Hars 

and burned her 

hdna brendu ; 

in the hall of Har (Odinn) ; 

prysvar brendu 

thrice they burned her. 

prysvar borna. 

the thrice born, 

opt, dsjaldan, 

often, time again ; 

po hon enn lifir. 

but yet she lives. 

22. HeiSi liana h6tu 

They called her Hei 3 9 

hvars til husa kom. 

in every house where she came. 

vglu vel spa, 

sibyl skilled in prophecy ; 

vitti hon ganda ; 

she enchanted magic wands, 

seid hon hvars hon kunni. 

she cast spells wherever she could, 

sei 5 h6n hugleikin. 

she cast spells in a trance ; 10 

as var hon angan 

she was ever the joy 

illrar bru 3 ar. 

of evil women. 

23. Pa gengu regin q 11 

Then all the gods 

a rgkstola, 

went to the chairs of fate. 

ginnheilug go 3 , 

the all-holy gods. 

ok um pat gasttusk, 

and deliberated this : 

hvdrt skyldu zesir 

whether the d^sir 

afr &5 gjalda, 

should pay the tribute. 

eda skyldu godin q11 

or should all the gods 

gildi eiga. 

receive the tribute. 11 

J 57 


24. Fleygdi Odirm 
ok x folk um skaut, 

Jxat var enn folkvig 
fyrst x heimi ; 
brotinn var bordveggr 
borgar asa, 
knattu vanir vigspa 
vqIIu sporna. 

(33inn cast his spear, 
hurled it into the host ; 
this was still the war 
first in the world ; 
shattered was the plank-wall 
of the castle of the J£sir ; 
the Vanir with battle-magic 12 
held the field. 13 

Str. 24 can hardly be explained except as the account of a battle, 
perhaps one of a series, in the war between the disir and Vanir. 14 As the 
battle opened, Ohinn hurled his spear, his sacred weapon, into the 
enemy host. The act was a ritual ; like some of the earthly heroes de- 
scribed elsewhere, 16 he dedicated his enemies to the war-god and to 
death. Armed with magic, rather than with military prowess, the Vanir 
shattered the wall of AsgarS and held the field. 

Strs. 21-22 seem to allude to the causes of the divine war. Gullveig, 
in the hall of Odinn, had been riddled with spears and burnt three times, 
only to revive as the witch, Heid, who practised evil magic (seidr) and 
rejoiced the hearts of wicked women. 

Str. 23 has also to be explained. It tells how all the gods, iEsir and 
Vanir, sat in council. They had to decide whether the dSsir alone should 
bear the loss, paying tribute (afrdd gjalda) to the Vanir, or whether all 
the gods should receive payment for the damage done. If this strophe 
belonged originally where it now stands, the negotiations did not 
succeed, and the battle described in Str. 24 began. 

But if str. 24 is placed before str. 23, or even if its sense is understood 
as pluperfect, the sequence agrees closely with that given in the bare 
sentences of the Ynglinga Saga. The dSsir and Vanir had been at war 
with varying success. Tiring of hostilities they settled their differences, 
and each party received tribute, or payment in the form of hostages 
delivered by the other. 

The cause of the war must be sought in strs. 2 1-2. Gullveig had been 
assaulted in the house of Odin, tortured by the iEsir, and was reborn as 
Heid, the witch. 

We must wonder who was Gullveig, whose name is found nowhere 
else. The first element in this name means ‘gold’, but the second ele- 
ment is hard to interpret because there are so many words and usages 
with which it might be associated. It may well be present in the 
women’s names Sqlveig, Porveig , etc, but the significance of the second 
element in these is disputed. 16 A word veig meaning ‘gold’ is given by 
the Icelandic lexicographer, Bjorn Halldorsson (1724-94) 17 and has 
been seen in the past participle veigadr (brocaded ?). 18 There is also a 



veig meaning ‘strength, force’. But, as used in poetry, veig nearly always 
means ‘strong drink’ and, according to the Alvissmal (str. 34), it was the 
name which the iEsir gave to beer. Gullveig’s name could thus mean 
the ‘power’, the ‘drink’, even the ‘drunkenness’ of gold, and hence the 
madness and corruption caused by this precious metal. 19 

The name Hei6 ( Heidr ), used in str. 22, is sometimes applied to witches 
in other and later texts. 20 It probably derives from the adjective heidr 
(bright, shining) . If Gullveig appears in one strophe as the ‘power’ or 
the ‘drunkenness of gold’, and in the next as the glittering, seductive 
witch, her place in the myth is less obscure. She is one of the Vanir, 
who were gods at once of riches and of that evil form of magic called 

If we may be more precise, Gullveig can hardly be other than Freyja, 
the Vanadis and foremost goddess of the Vanir. It is not told that Freyja 
was one of the hostages surrendered by the Vanir after the war, but it is 
plain that she was established in the realm of the d£sir. She was a god- 
dess of gold for, as the scalds knew, she wept tears of gold. 21 Her daughters 
were Hnoss and Gersimi, both of whose names means ‘jewel’ and Freyja 
owned the famous Brising necklace ( Brisinga men ). 22 She was remem- 
bered as an amorous, seductive figure. According to the Lokasenna 
(strs. 30 ff), she had slept with all the gods, and even with her brother 

But Freyja was not only a goddess of gold and jewels ; she was also a 
witch ( fordada ) 23 and mistress of that disreputable magic, seidr. This was 
the practice of the Vanir, and Freyja taught it to the d£sir and especially 
to 05 inn . 24 

It is not told how r Freyja came to AsgarS or the hall of Odinn, but if 
we can identify her with Gullveig, it was because of her that the war of 
the gods broke out. It could be suggested that Gullveig (Freyja) had 
been sent to Asgard by the Vanir in order to corrupt the ri£sir with 
greed, lust and witchcraft. Attempts by the iEsir to destroy her were 
vain, and she still lives. 

The significance of the divine war remains obscure. Many have seen 
in .it the record of some incident in history, even as a religious war be- 
tween worshippers of the fertility gods, the Vanir, and the more war- 
like M sir. The Vanir have most often been regarded as the original 
Norse gods and the iEsir as the invaders, although the Vgluspa gives an 
opposite impression. The historical events said to be reflected in the 
myth have been assigned to very different ages. While some have placed 
them in prehistoric times, others have placed them as late as the Viking 
Age, and others have found the basis in the Lombard tale of the war 
between the Vinnili (Lombards) and the Vandals. 26 




From such records as we possess, it does not appear that the poly- 
theistic pagans of Scandinavia and Germany were so dogmatic or 
fanatical in their religious beliefs that they would be likely to go to war 
for the worship of one tribe of gods or another. This first war in the 
world seems rather to be a part of the creation myth. It explains how 
gods who promoted such different interests as the Vanir and jEsir 
lived in friendship. More than this, it explains why the iEsir are gods, 
not only of chieftains and of war, but also of fertility and magic, even of 
seidr. If we follow the few lines of the Skaldskaparmdl (IV), the war 
ended in a fusion of cults, expressed in the mixed spittle and the creation 
of the sage, Kvasir. 

Difficult as it is to understand, we could suppose that this myth is 
related ultimately to Irish tales of the two battles of Mag Tured . 26 
These have been seen by some as a -combination of myth and history. 
To an outsider, at least, the mythical element seems to predominate, but 
the stories are something of a hotchpotch. 

In the first battle, the Tuatha De Danann, who are agreed to be 
gods, defeated the Fir Bolg, whom many consider historical . 27 In the 
second battle the Tuatha De Danann defeated the Formorians. This 
second battle has been seen as one between the Tuatha De Danann, 
gods of light, life, day, and the Fomorians, gods of death and darkness . 28 

In fact, the explanation is probably more complicated. Like the 
iEsir, the Tuatha De Danann appear to act rather as gods of war than 
of light and life. Some of them bear a close resemblance to certain of the 
Norse iEsir. In the first battle of Mag Tured, Nuadu, leader of the 
Tuatha De Danann lost his hand and, because of the blemish, was con- 
sidered unfit to rule until the lost hand had been replaced by a silver 
one. During the seven years which elapsed, Bress was king. His mother 
was of the Tuatha De Danann, but his father came of the Fomorians. 
He was avaricious, stingy and inhospitable ; after his subjects had visited 
him, their breath did not even reek of beer. When the Tuatha De 
Danann rose against him, Bress fled to his Fomorian father, and Nuadu 
was king again. 

The Fomorians planned to conquer Ireland, but the Tuatha De 
Danann resisted. One of their chief warriors was Lug, the master of 
many crafts. He was partly a Fomorian and was grandson of the Fomo- 
rian Balor, the evil-eyed. 

In the ensuing battle Nuadu was killed by Balor. Balor had but one 
eye, and when it opened it brought destruction; the warriors upon 
whom its gaze fell lost the power to resist their enemies. As the eye 
opened, Lug hurled a stone through it, and the Fomorians were 


This latter story looks in many ways like one of a battle between 
gods and giants or demons . 29 There are, however, complications, which 
lead us to think of the war between the iEsir and the Vanir. Nuadu, it 
need hardly be said, is reminiscent of Tyr, whose hand was bitten off by 
the monster Fenrir . 30 It is remarkable that Balor, a leader of the Fomo- 
rians, the demon tribe, bore a strange similarity to Odinn. Like Odinn, 
he had only one eye, and this eye paralysed those upon whom its 
glance fell in battle . 31 Odinn could also paralyse his enemies and blunt 
their weapons . 32 Balor was grandfather of Lug, leader of the divine 
Tuatha De Danann; Odinn was often friendly with giants and those of 
giant race, and was himself of giant ancestry. 

Lug, apart from his ancestry, also bore a strong resemblance to 
Odinn . 33 He possessed a magic spear ; before the battle he encouraged 
the army of the Tuatha De Danann; he walked round them on one 
foot with one eye closed, chanting a poem. This was clearly a ritual or 
magical act, no less than that of Odinn, who hurled his spear at the 
opening of battle . 34 

The second battle, like the first, ended in victory for the Tuatha De 
Danann and not, like the war of the iEsir and Vanir, in a pact between 
the hostile tribes. But the position of Bress at the end of the war is 
enigmatical. He had been king of the Tuatha De Danann, but had 
joined the Fomorians. At the end of the second battle he fell into the 
hands of the Tuatha De Danann. He asked his captors to spare his life ; 
in return he would assure that the cows would never go dry and that 
there would be a harvest every season. All this was refused, but in the 
end Bress saved his life by telling his captors how to plough, sow and 

In other words, Bress made an agreement with the Tuatha De Danann 
and brought fertility to their soil . 35 Consequently he had been seen as a 
fertility god. Even his name, meaning ‘Beautiful’, associates him with 
the bright Freyr of the Vanir . 36 

I have spent some lines on the Irish legends because they resemble 
the Norse myth in many ways, but there are other legends and myths 
with which the story of the ASsir and the Vanir might be compared. 

G. Dumezil has discussed the war of the Norse gods in many works , 37 
and places it in a wider Indo-European setting, basing it on the same 
tradition as the war of the Sabines and Romans. Dumezil’s comparison 
of the Norse tale with the Indian one of the entry of the Nasatya 
(Aivins), givers of riches and fertility, into the divine hierarchy is 
striking. The Nasatya, according to the stories cited by Dumezil, were 
not admitted into the hierarchy until after a struggle. 

Whether or not common origin is accepted, the Norse, Irish, Roman 




and Indian tales seem to serve the same purpose. They explain how 
gods and men, who have such different interests and ambitions, as the 
agriculturalist, the merchant, the warrior and the king, can live to- 
gether in harmony. 

In one civilization, and at one time, the specialized gods of fertility 
might predominate, and in another the warrior or the god-king. The 
highest god owes his position to those who worship him, and if they are 
farmers, he will be a god of fertility, or one of the Vanir. 


As already remarked, Njord was father of Freyr and Freyja. In the 
Lokasenna (36), Loki insultingly told Njord that he had begotten Freyr 
on his own sister. Loki’s taunts were generally well grounded, and 
Snorri 1 gives more details of Njord’s sexual life. Freyr and Freyja were 
born to him by a nameless sister when he dwelt among his native tribe, 
the Vanir. Such incestuous unions were permitted among the Vanir, 
but were frowned upon by the more moral JEsir . 2 

Njord filled a certain place in the religious cults of Iceland and 
western Norway in historic times. In the remnants of the pagan law of 
Iceland, it is laid down that one who had to perform legal business, 
pleading, bearing witness, or passing judgment, should swear an oath 
on the holy ring, saying: ‘so help me Freyr and Njord and the all- 
powerful god (ass) . . .’ 3 Again, according to the Heimskringla , 4 when 
sacrifice was held in Thrandheim about the middle of the tenth century, 
the first toast was drunk to Odinn for victory and the success of the king, 
and afterwards the toasts of Njord and Freyr were drunk for fruitful 
harvests and peace. When Egill Skalla-Grimsson, in a magnificent 
verse, cursed the tyrant Eirik Bloodaxe, he called on Freyr and Njord 
together to drive him from his lands. 6 In his lay in praise of his friend 
Arinbjdrn (str. 17), Egill again named Freyr and Njord together, saying 
that it was they who had blessed Arinbjdrn with riches. 

It seems thus, that by the end of the Heathen Age, Njord had come 
nearly to be identified with his more famous son, Freyr, and over- 
shadowed by him. But both place-names and the myths in which Njord 
figures show that in earlier times he had played a more important part 
in religious life. It is said in one of the Eddaic poems 6 that Njord pre- 
sides over countless temples and shrines and, in another, that this 
blameless prince of men rules a high- timbered shrine. 7 

The place-names also show that Njord was worshipped widely, par- 
ticularly in eastern Sweden and western Norway. Nearly thirty names 
in which Njord- (Njard-) forms the first element have been counted in 
Norway, 8 and there are many in Sweden as well, although few, if any, 


in Denmark. These names are of many types. A number which go back 
to an original *Njardarve (Njord’s temple), found chiefly in Ostergotland 
and eastern Sweden, show that Njord was publicly worshipped at an 
early period. The same may be said of those of the type *Njar 8 arlundr 
(Njord’s grove), found in similar regions. 9 South-eastern Norway pro- 
vides two examples of * NjarSarhoj \ also implying public worship, if at a 
rather later period. Njord’s association with the sea is also borne out 
by place-names. Iceland has two examples of Njardvik (Njord’s creek) 
and western Norway provides at least four of these. *Njardarey (Njord’s 
island) is also fairly common in western Norway. 10 

In the Tnglinga Saga (IV) Snorri gives further evidence of Njord’s 
importance in cult and sacrifice. After they had come to the world of 
the iEsir, Odinn appointed Njord and Freyr as sacrificial priests 
( blotgodar ), and they were diar among the iEsif. The precise meaning 
of diar (plural) is not known, but there is little doubt that it was 
borrowed from the Irish dia (god). 11 As Snorri uses the word diar it 
probably implies priests of a particularly exalted kind. 

Njord, it is said, was created in the world of the Vanir and given to 
the iEsir {goSin) as a hostage, but at the end of the world (aldar rqk ) he 
will return to his own tribe. 12 His home is Nfiatun (the place of ships, 
harbour). 13 He should be invoked by seamen and fishermen. 14 Njord is 
so rich that men of exceptional wealth might be said to be ‘rich as 
Njord’. 15 The god’s riches belonged especially to ships and to the sea, 
and we may believe that such qualities were emphasized by his sea- 
faring worshippers in western Norway and Iceland. 

In the traditions about Sweden, Njord takes his place beside his son 
Freyr as king. Ari the Wise (died 1 148) appended to his Libellus Islando- 
rum a list of his own ancestors. The first was Yngvi, King of the Turks 
( Tyrkja konungr ), 15 the second Njord, King of the Swedes, and the third 
Freyr. It is said elsewhere 17 that Yngvi was first king of the Swedes ; his 
son was Njord who, with his son, Freyr, was worshipped by the Swedes 
as a god for many centuries. It was also said that Njord was first king of 
the Swedes but, following the tradition that Odinn had brought the 
gods from Asia, and established the northern kingdoms, some writers 18 
concluded that Njord was another name for Odinn, 

In the Tnglinga Saga , Snorri was more precise, and described Njord as 
a typical divine king. When Odinn came to Sweden, he established 
Njord in Noatun and Freyr in Uppsalir. 19 . Noatun has not been identi- 
fied, but it was clearly supposed to be in Sweden. When Odinn died, 
Njord became ruler of the Swedes. He maintained the sacrifices, and his 
reign was one of peace and plenty. The Swedes believed that Njord 
controlled men’s wealth. Before he died, Njord had himself marked, 



evidently with Odinn’s sacred weapon, the spear, so that he might go to 
Cdinn. The Swedes burned him and wept bitterly over his grave. 20 

After Njord came to the dEsir, leaving his sister-wife, he married 
again, and his new wife was Skadi, daughter of the giant Thjazi. 

The story of this marriage was peculiar, and a closely similar one was 
told of the legendary hero Hadding (Hadingus), which will be de- 
scribed below. 21 The marriage of Njord and Skadi was one of the 
results of the theft of Idunn’s apples. 22 After the gods had burnt the 
giant Thjazi to death, his daughter, Skadi, arrived in Asgard in full 
armour, bent on vengeance. The iEsir made peace with her, and 
allowed her to choose a husband from their number, seeing his legs (or 
feet) alone. Njord had the most beautiful feet, and Skadi chose him, 
believing he was Baldr. 23 

The marriage was a failure, for Njord wished to live in Noatun, by 
the sea, while Skadi preferred her father’s home, Thrymheim 24 in the 
mountains. The one objected to the howling wolves and the other to the 
mewing seagulls. The couple tried spending nine nights in each place, 
but the marriage broke up, and Skadi returned to her mountain fast- 
ness. 25 According to another tradition, Skadi afterwards married Odinn, 
to whom she bore many sons, including Sseming, ancestor of the Jarls 
of Hladir. 26 

Skadi was mentioned by several poets and figured in myths, but her 
relations with the gods, and especially with Nj5rd, are difficult to under- 
stand. The failure of her marriage is mentioned by a poet of the 
eleventh century. 27 

Two of the oldest scalds refer to Skadi as goddess, or deity, of snow- 
shoes, 28 and Snorri tells how she travelled on snow-shoes, wielded the 
bow and shot wild animals. 29 She was accused of over-friendly relations 
with Loki, 30 but showed herself his sworn enemy. 31 ft was chiefly Loki 
who had caused the death of Skadi’s father, 32 and it was Skadi who 
hung a poison serpent over Loki’s head, when he was punished after 
the death of Baldr. 33 

Skadi, with her armour and snowshoes and bow, has some of the 
features of a male god. If she may be compared with any, it is with the 
god Ull {Ullr), of whom we know even less. Ull was the god of snow- 
shoes {qndurdss), of the bow {bogadss) and the hunting god {veididss) . 3i 

The origin of Skadi’s name has not been found, although many sug- 
gestions have been offered. Some have identified it with the Old Norse 
noun skadi (harm, injury) while others have related it to Gothic skadus 
and Old English sceadu (shade, shadow). 35 In either case, it could be 
implied that Skadi was a goddess of destruction, or perhaps of darkness 
and death. 



The form of Skadi’s name is typically masculine, but it is doubtful 
whether great significance should be attached to this. The masculine 
names Skuta , Sturla decline as feminines, and were perhaps originally 
nicknames. It may be that Skadi was originally a god, while her con- 
sort, Njord, was a goddess, whose sex changed because the name 
appeared to be masculine. 36 If so, much remains to be explained. Why 
should a god, Skadi, with masculine name, be allowed to turn into a 

If Skadi, this ‘shining bride of gods’, 37 was of giant race, it is sur- 
prising that she would be worshipped. But yet Skadi is made to boast 
of her temples and sanctuaries. 38 A number of place-names, particularly 
in eastern Sweden, are believed to represent an original Skadave (Skadi’s 
temple), Skadalundr (Skadi’s grove) and suchlike, but specialists do not 
agree on the origins of these names. 39 

With her snowshoes, her howling wolves, and in her mountain 
dwelling to which she returns from Noatun, Skadi seems to be a goddess 
of winter, and thus of darkness and death. 40 

The marriage of Skadi to the fertility-god, Njord, runs parallel with 
that of Njord’s son, Freyr, with Gerd. Gerd was also of giant race, and 
probably came of the frost-giants. The meaning of these two myths is 
fundamentally the same. A god of fertility is allied to a goddess of winter 
and death. In Norse myths, as in others, fertility and death are in- 
timately related. 


At the end of the Heathen Age, the chief representative of the Vanir was 
Freyr, whose worship in Iceland and other lands is described fully in 
historical and quasi-historical sources. 

A detailed account of this cult is given in the Viga-Glums Saga, 
probably written early in the thirteenth century 1 and based largely on 
older writings, on ancient scaldic poems and on the tales which went 
with them. 

The story of Glum’s enmity with Freyr was noticed in another con- 
text, 2 and a few details may be recalled. A temple dedicated to Freyr 
stood at Hripkelsstadir, close to Thvera in the EyjafjorS. Beneath it 
stood the cornfield, Vitazgjafi (the certain giver). 3 This name was also 
applied to an island in HornafjorS and, in a legendary source, to a 
fjord in northern Norway teeming with fish. 4 Like names were applied 
to places in Norway in historical documents. 5 

The field described in the Viga-Glums Saga was plainly sacred to the 
god Freyr, and the same may be said of fields called Freysakr (Freyr’s 
cornfield) of which there are a number of examples in Sweden and 




Norway. 8 It was the god who assured the never-failing harvests of the 
Vitazgjafi, and Glum’s crimes against the god were firstly in shedding 
blood on the sacred field, secondly sheltering an outlaw son within the 
sacred precincts, and thirdly swearing an ambiguous oath in the 

I suggested above that Glum derived the cult and morals of OSinn 
from his mother’s viking family. The cult of Freyr appears to be 
stronger in the family of his father, and traditional in the Eyjafjord, a 
rich agricultural district. 

The worship of Freyr was perhaps introduced into the Eyjafjord by 
the settler, Helgi the Lean, grandfather of Glum. Helgi, as already ex- 
plained, 7 was a man of mixed beliefs, worshipping Thor and Christ at 
once. There are reasons to think that Freyr was another of his favourite 
gods. Helgi was brought up in Ireland, son of a Scandinavian father and 
an Irish mother. When he emigrated to Eyjafjord, Helgi, like many 
another settler, called on Thor to show him where to land. 

The first winter was severe, and Helgi was dissatisfied. After putting 
to sea again, he came to a place called Galtarhamarr (Boar’s cliff), where 
he put ashore a boar and a sow. These beasts were recovered three 
years later, leading a herd of seventy. 8 This story may be compared 
with others, telling how settlers were guided by pillars on which the 
image of Thor might be carved, or even by the coffin of a dead father. 9 
The boar was one of the beasts particularly sacred to Freyr, the god of 
fertility, and Helgi’s prolific boar may be seen as a good omen for his 

The ancestors and descendants of Helgi included a number whose 
names began with Ing- and, as will be explained below, 10 this element 
may be associated with Freyr and related to the god’s other name 
Yngvi. Helgi’s son, Ingjald, grandfather of Glum, built a great temple, 
probably the temple of Freyr described in the Viga-Glums Saga. 11 

On his father’s side Helgi came of a family of Sweden or Gautland, 
and his father, Eyvind, was called ‘the easterner’ ( austmadr ) because he 
had come from Sweden (Smariki) 12 The first of Eyvind’s ancestors was a 
King Fro5i. 13 The name Fr65i was borne by several legendary kings of 
the Danes, and seems also to be applied to the god Freyr. 

Several chiefs of Iceland were given the title Freysgodi or ‘priest of 
Freyr’. One of these, Thord, is named frequently in genealogies and 
lived in the south-east of the country. His descendants were the Freys- 
gyUingar or ‘priestlings of Freyr’. 14 Another priest of Freyr was Thor- 
grim, living in the north-west. This man is given his title Freysgodi only 
in a somewhat untrustworthy text, 15 but much is told of his relations 
with the god. According to the Gisla Saga (XV and XVIII), it was 


Thorgrfm’s custom to hold a festival at the ‘winter-nights’ (at vetmottum ) , 
early in October. He would welcome the winter and offer sacrifice to 
Freyr. After he had been laid in his cairn, snow would not lie on it, and 
shoots sprouted in mid-winter. People believed that this was because of 
the love which Freyr bore for Thorgrim; he would not allow frost to 
come between them. 

The story of Hrafnkell Freysgodi, a chieftain of eastern Iceland, is so 
well known that only a few details need be mentioned. Although named 
in several sources, Hrafnkell is called Freysgodi only in the Hrafnkels 
Saga , which is now commonly regarded as one of the latest and most 
fictitious of its whole class. 18 We may doubt whether the historical 
Hrafnkell was really the ardent worshipper of Freyr which the saga 
makes him out to be, but the story includes some motives which are 
probably based on tradition. 

It is said of Hrafnkell that he loved no god more than Freyr, with 
whom he shared all his best possessions. One of these was a stallion, 
Freyfaxi (Freyr’s maned one), accompanied by a stud of twelve mares. 
Hrafnkell had such affection for his stallion, that he had sworn an 
oath that he would be the death of anyone who rode him against his 

After Hrafnkell’ s shepherd had mounted the stallion, Hrafnkell 
plunged an axe into his skull without hesitation. The sequel tells how 
Hrafnkell’s enemies temporarily overcame him. Having seized his 
property they burnt down the temple, captured the accursed horse, tied 
a bag over his head and destroyed him by pushing him over a cliff into 
a pool below. When Hrafnkell heard of this, he decided that it was 
humbug to believe in gods, and never offered sacrifice again. 

The author did not make all this out of nothing, but he seems rather 
to apply traditional motives to Hrafnkell, in whose family the cult of 
Freyr was perhaps traditional. 17 In the first place we may wonder why 
the knackers took the trouble to tie a bag over the stallion’s head. This 
was no ordinary horse, and the slaughterers acted as did many who 
executed witches and wizards possessed of the evil eye. 18 

We may also wonder how this author knew so much about veneration 
of horses and of their importance in fertility rites and the cult of Freyr. 
While he may derive some of his knowledge from existing books, a 
proportion of it must come directly from tradition, or indirectly from 
lost books. 

Freyfaxi was not the only Icelandic horse dedicated to Freyr. An- 
other, called Freysfaxi, is mentioned in the Vatnsdcela Saga (XXXIV), 
where it is said that his owner had ‘faith’ ( dtrunadr ) in him. According 
to a story of Olaf Tryggvason, 19 horses in Norway were dedicated to 




Freyr. Olaf had set out to desecrate the idol of Freyr in Thr&ndheim. 
As he landed near the temple, he saw a stud of horses and was told that 
they belonged to Freyr. The King mounted the stallion as if to insult 
the god, while his men took the mares. They rode in triumph to the 
temple, where Olaf derisively seized the idol. There are many stories 
from other countries of sacred horses, which must not be ridden or put 
to work, or touched by any except a priest. 20 As will be seen in later 
chapters, the flesh of the horse was eaten in sacrificial feasts, and his 
phallus was held in particular veneration. 

The boar was also sacred to Freyr and the Vanir. While Freyr’s 
sister, Freyja, had the nickname Syr (sow), the god owned the boar 
Gullinbursti (Golden-bristled) or SMrugtanni (Gutting- tusked), made by 
a dwarf. 21 This boar would gallop through the air and over the sea 
more swiftly than any horse, while his glowing bristles gave light in 
darkest night. Freyr rode on his boar to the cremation of Baldr. 22 
According to one text, a magnificent boar {sonargqltr) was offered to 
Freyr at Yule, and oaths were sworn on his bristles. 23 

An ox was also offered to Freyr in the story quoted from Viga-Glums 
Saga, and a story like this one, and perhaps derived from it, is given in 
another text. 24 Further evidence of relations between the Vanir and 
horned cattle will be given below. 

The worship of Freyr has left its mark in a few place-names of eastern 
and south-eastern Iceland. Freyfaxahamarr (Freyfaxi’s cliff), in Hrafn- 
kelsdal, where the horse was said to be destroyed, may well owe its name 
to the saga. The name Freysnes is also recorded three times, and Freys- 
holar (Freyr’s hillocks) once. 25 

More than twenty names of which Frey- forms the first element, have 
been recorded in Norway. 26 Two of these, Freyshof (Freyr’s temple) in 
the south-east of the country, suggest public worship of the god in the 
last centuries of heathendom. 27 There are many more in which the 
god’s name is compounded with words for fields, meadows, etc, e.g. 
* Freysakr, *Freysland, *Freysvin. The place-names containing the element 
Frey- are found chiefly in south-eastern Norway, perhaps because of the 
importance of agriculture in that region. 

The Frey- names in Sweden are far more numerous, and include many 
of the type *Freysvt (Freyr’s temple), *Freyslundr (Freyr’s grove), be- 
sides agricultural names such as *Freysakr. Such names are particularly 
common in eastern Sweden (Svealand), 28 and it seems that this agricul- 
tural district was for long the centre of Freyr’s cult. 

Literature supports the evidence of place-names. In a passage 
ascribed to Styrmir Karason (died 1245), Freyr is named as god of the 
Swedes, while Thor is god of the English and Odinn of the Germans 


( Saxar ). 29 The Icelandic poet, Hallfred, while still a pagan, promised 
sacrifice to the gods if the winds drove his ship away from Norway and 
from Olaf Tryggvason. The sacrifice would go to Thor or Odinn if the 
ship drifted to Iceland, but to Freyr if it reached Sweden. 30 

Many tales are told about idols of Freyr in Sweden. The idol of 
Fricco, who can be no other than Freyr, took his place beside Wodan 
and Thor in the temple of Uppsalir. 31 A wooden idol of Freyr was said 
to have been brought from Sweden to Thrandheim, and a remarkable 
tale is told of an animated idol of Freyr in Sweden, who wrestled with 
the fugitive, Gunnar Helming. 32 

Freyr was the chief god of the Swedes, and they called him ‘God of 
the World’ ( Veraldar god). But not only was Freyr the chief god of the 
Swedes, he was also the divine ancestor of their kings. While the name 
Freyr means only ‘the Lord’, the god had another name, Tngvi, and the 
Tnglingar the ruling house of the Swedes, were believed to take their 
name from him. The elements Ing- and Yngv- in personal names may 
be associated with Tngvi. 

Freyr, as the divine king of the Swedes, will be discussed in another 
chapter, 33 but his relations with Frodi, another divine king, should 
be mentioned now. While Freyr was king of the Swedes the so-called 
‘Peace of Fro 5 i’ ( Froda fridr) began. This was a golden age, when 
there was welfare throughout the world, and the Swedes ascribed it to 
Freyr. 34 In the Skaldskapanndl (LIII), Snorri gave a detailed and 
rather different account of the Peace of Frodi. At that time, Frodi, a 
great-grandson of Odinn, was King of the Danes. This was in the days 
when Augustus made peace throughout the world ( pax romana ) and 
Christ was born. But since Frodi was the most powerful king in the 
north, the age of peace and plenty was ascribed to him, and therefore 
the Scandinavians called it the Peace of Frodi. It is said in another 
passage that, while the Danes ascribed this peace to Frodi, the Swedes 
ascribed it to Freyr. 35 

Frodi’ s peace was frequently mentioned by poets. Einar Skalaglamm 
(died c. 995) said in praise of Hakon the Great that no prince had 
brought such peace except Frodi. 36 The golden age and its end formed 
the subject of the powerful Grottasgngr. Such was the peace that a man 
would not even strike his brother’s slayer if he found him in chains. 

Histories of Denmark include a series of kings called Frodi, but the 
most remarkable parallel is between Freyr and the king who appears 
in Saxo’s work as Frodi III. 

It is said of Freyr, the king of the Swedes, that when he died it was 
kept secret. He was laid in a cairn, where tribute was paid to him for 
three years, and plenty and peace were maintained. 37 




Saxo tells that, when FroSi was dead, the nobles kept him embalmed, 
fearing rebellion and invasion if the news of his death were published. 
They conveyed him in a chariot ( vehiculo ), as if he were an infirm old 
man not in full possession of his forces. 38 

In the manner of his death, Saxo’s FroSi III shows further affinities 
with Freyr and the Vanir. He was gored to death by a sea-cow (: mariti 
ma bos), or rather by a sorceress who had taken this shape. This same 
FroSi, according to Arngrimur Jonsson, 39 was pierced by the antlers of a 
hart. It is also told that Freyr killed the giant Beli with a hart’s horn. 40 

Saxo’s FroSi III was conveyed ceremoniously in a chariot, both while 
he was alive and when he was mummified after death. In the story of 
Gunnar Helming, 41 the idol of Freyr was similarly conveyed in Sweden, 
bringing fertility to the crops. 

In one passage 42 Freyr is called inn frodi, which probably means ‘the 
fruitful’, and that is probably the meaning of the name Frodi N This im- 
plies that neither Freyr nor Frodi are proper names, but rather a title and 
a nickname. But, as already observed, Freyr was also called Tngvi and 
Tngvi-Freyr, and his full name and title might thus be Tngvi-Freyr-inn - 
Frodi, or ‘the Lord Yngvi the Fruitful’. 

But, as will be seen in a later chapter, 44 all the descendants of Freyr, 
the Ynglingar, kings of the Swedes, could be called Tngvi ( Tnguni ) . 
This suggests that Tngvi was also a title or descriptive term, meaning, 
perhaps, ‘the Ingveeonian’, or even ‘the man of *Ingwaz’. 45 

In the Lokasenna (str. 43), as in the Greater Saga of St Olaf, 46 Freyr is 
called Ingunar-Freyr. The precise significance of this name is not certain, 47 
but in Beowulf (1319) the king of the Danes is called Frea Ingwina. The 
similarity is too close to be fortuitous, and the latter title can only mean 
‘lord of the friends of Ing.’ 48 

Ing, as is well known, is named in the Old English Runic Poem, 49 for 
his name is that of the rune NG. The verse runs : 

Ing wees merest 
mid East-Denum 
gesewen secgun, 
ofi he sidSan est 
ofer Wceg gewat ; 
wasn alter ran . , 

Ing was first 

among the East-Danes 

seen by men, 

until afterwards eastward 

over the wave he departed ; 

his chariot ran after him . . . 

These lines may be analysed. Ing originated among the eastern or 
island Danes. He afterwards departed eastward over the waves and his 
chariot followed him. In plainer terms this could mean that the cult of 
Ing was practised first among the Danes of the islands, but later its 
centre was transferred eastward, and perhaps northward to Svealand. 

The chief idol and the ceremonial chariot could both have been moved 
from Denmark to Malaren, although this is perhaps too literal an inter- 

The Old English verse just quoted ends with the sentence : 

5us Heardingas thus the Heardingas 

done haele nemdun called this hero. 

The Heardingas, as will appear in a later chapter (Ch. X, Hadding), 
probably came of the Vandals, whether this tribe originated in the 
north Jutish Vendsyssel (O.N. Vendill) or in the Swedish Vendel. 

Ing, whose original name was probably *Ingwaz , 50 can only be the 
eponymous father, the divine ancestor of the Ingvasones. 

The Ingvzeones, according to Tacitus ( Germania III), were one of the 
three great peoples of Germania. They lived next to the ocean, which 
probably means in north Germany and in the Danish islands. If so, 
they must include those seven tribes who worshipped* the goddess 

The origin of the name Nerthus is disputed. It may well be related to 
Irish nert (strength), 61 implying that the goddess embodied the strength 
and fertility of the earth. If so, it is probably this word which appears 
in the Old Norse compounds njardgjgrd (girdle of strength), 52 njardldss 
(mighty lock). 

Nerthus, whatever her sex, was one of the Vanir, and her name 
corresponds exactly with that of the god NjorS. The worship of Nerthus 
is described by Tacitus ( Germania XL) with unusual precision, and the 
chief features may be summarized. Nerthus is Terra Mater, and she was 
believed to interest herself in the affairs of men. The centre of her wor- 
ship was an island in the ocean, which may be one of the Danish islands. 
There was a holy grove ( castum nemus) on this island, and in it a chariot 
covered with a cloth, which only one priest was permitted to touch. The 
priest knew when the goddess was present, and she would be carried in 
her chariot drawn by cows and accompanied by the priest. When the 
goddess was present all weapons were laid aside, and these were days of 
peace and quietude. When Nerthus tired of the company of men, the 
priest would take her back to her temple. Afterwards the chariot, the 
cloth, and even the goddess herself would be secretly washed in a lake. 
The task was allotted to slaves, who were afterwards drowned in the 
lake. Hence there was a holy terror of this goddess, seen only by those 
about to die. 

A more pregnant passage is hardly to be found in the works of Tacitus. 
We need mention only a few of the practices which correspond with 





those ascribed to the cult of the Vanir in Norse and German sources 
written more than a thousand years later. 

King FroSi was carried in a chariot alive and dead, and the chariot 
of Ing followed him. Freyr, according to the late Icelandic Gunnars 
Pattr, 5Z was similarly carried around the provinces of Sweden. 

Freyr, in this Icelandic story, was attended in his chariot by a woman, 
believed to be his wife. Nerthus was attended by a priest, and it is likely 
that the fertility goddess with her male companion and the god with his 
female were thought of as husband and wife, forming divine pairs. 

In sources of Icelandic history we read of several women who bore 
the title gydja (priestess) or hof gydja (temple-priestess). Some of these 
women were said to have charge of temples and to administer sacrifice. 54 
We cannot say that all of them were priestesses of Freyr, but in one case, 
the conclusion is difficult to avoid. Thurid, the temple-priestess, whose 
family belonged to the south-east of the country, was half-sister of 
Thord, Freyr’s priest (Freysgodi), whose descendants were the Freys- 
gydlingar (Freyr’s priestlings). 55 

The days when Nerthus was present on her island were days of peace 
[pax et quies ). The days of Freyr, as of Frodi, were days of peace {fridr) 
and prosperity (dr ) . 

The nine-yearly festival of Uppsala will be discussed in a later chap- 
ter (Gh. Nil). Uppsala was for long the centre of Freyr’s cult. There 
was a sacred grove there, as there was on the island of Nerthus. There 
was also a well ( fons ) at Uppsala, in which sacrificial victims were im- 
mersed, just as were the slaves who washed the goddess Nerthus. 

We may see Nerthus and her priest, Freyr and his female companion, 
as divine pairs, even as the sky-god and earth goddess, bringing fertility 
and peace. We may be satisfied that the cult described by Tacitus was 
fundamentally the same as that mentioned in the late Norse sources. 
Whether this cult first developed in Sweden or, as is more probable, in 
north Germany, 56 it maintained its form for some ten centuries. But a 
serious difficulty remains. 

Nerthus cannot be other than Njor6, but Norse authors tell us that 
NjorS was a god and not a goddess; he was father of Freyr and Freyja. 
This problem of the change of sex may never be solved finally, but w r e 
might suppose that Nerthus was originally hermaphrodite or that we 
have to do with a divine pair, brother and sister like Freyr and Freyja. 
NjorS had his sister to wife ; Freyja had cohabited with Freyr, and incest 
was the practice of the Vanir. In this case, there may have been both a 
male and a female Nerthus. It has been suggested that the NjorS 
remembered in some of the place-names of Sweden was not a god but a 
goddess. 57 


The chariot, as already seen, recurs in the stories of Nerthus, Frodi, 
Freyr and Ing, and its place in the cult cannot be questioned. A highly 
ornamental chariot, besides fragments of another, was found at Dejbjerg, 
near Ringkjobing in Jutland. This chariot is generally assigned to the 
early Iron Age, 58 and it is now agreed that it was built for ceremonial 
rather than practical purposes. There must also be a religious meaning 
in the image of a disk like the sun, drawn on wheels by a model horse. 
This find was made at Trundholm in North Zealand, and is assigned 
to the Bronze Age. 59 It is said in the Grimnismdl (str. 37) that the sun 
was drawn across the sky by horses. 

Coming later down the centuries, we may remember the splendid 
chariot found in the Oseberg grave of the ninth century, as well as the 
four-wheeled chariots drawn by stately steppers depicted on the tapes- 
tries of that grave. 60 The chariot, as it seems, symbolizes death, fertility 
and so rebirth. 

While he drove in a chariot, Freyr was also the keenest of riders, 61 
and his horse was called Blodughofi (Bloody-hoofed). Because of this 
name, some have seen Freyr’s horse as the one in the Second Merseburg 
Charm, who suffered a sprain. 62 

Freyr was also owner of Skidbladnir, the best of ships, which was 
made for him by the sons of a dwarf. 63 According to Snorri, 64 this ship 
was so big that all the TEsir could board her fully armed. She always 
had a following wind, and was built of so many pieces that she could be 
folded up and put in a purse. Since the Bronze Age, the ship had had 
its place in fertility rites, 65 and ships are found time and time again in 
graves and are depicted on monuments. We have not only to think of 
the ships of Gokstad and Oseberg, but also of the hundreds of boat- 
graves found in Norway and Sweden. Several descriptions of burial in 
a ship are preserved in the historical literature of Iceland. 68 Strangely 
enough, the ships are sometimes anchored or made immovable. 67 If not 
precisely intended to take the dead to the Other World, the ship, like 
the chariot, must be seen as a symbol of death and fertility. 

Freyr was called blotgud svia or ‘sacrificial god of the Swedes, 68 and 
some details of his place in Swedish ritual may be gleaned from Saxo. 
Freyr, the ‘satrap’ of the gods, settled close to Uppsala, where he intro- 
duced human sacrifice. 69 . Hading, Saxo told in an earlier passage, had 
established an annual festival, which the Swedes called Froblod (Freyr’s 
sacrifice), when ‘swarthy’ (furvis) victims were sacrificed to the god. 70 

The cult of Freyr, since he was god of fertility, was accompanied by 
sexual rites. His idol in the temple of Uppsala, as Adam described it 
was furnished with a gigantic phallus. 71 A little image or amulet, bear- 
ing this characteristic, was found at Rallinge in Sodermanland. 72 Saxo 73 



also tells of sacrifices conducted under the sons of Freyr, the Ynglingar, 
in Uppsala. These sacrifices were accompanied by an unmanly clatter 
of bells and effeminate gestures, by which the hero StarkaS was so 
revolted that he left the country. 

Just as his father, NjorS, married the giantess Skadi, so Freyr took his 
bride from the Giant World. Her name was Gerd, and she was daughter 
of the giant Gymir. 74 Allusion to this marriage is made in several sources, 
and it forms the whole subject of the poem Skirnismdl (The Words of 
Skfrnir). The poem may be summarized : 

Freyr (according to the prose introduction) had sat in Odinn’s high seat, 
Hlidskjdlf 76 . He looked over all the worlds and into the World of Giants. 
There, in the castle of Gymir, he saw a maid so beautiful that he was sick 
with the love of her. He sent his loyal servant, Skfrnir, on the perilous journey 
to the enemy world to win Gerd on his behalf. Freyr lent his servant the 
horse, which could understand speech, and his splendid sword, which fought 
by itself. Skfrnir rode to the land of giants over misty hills through a dark, 
flickering fire ( myrkvan vafrloga). Reaching the castle of Gymir, he tried to 
bribe the maid, first with eleven gold apples (epli ellifu . . . algullin), and then 
with the magic arm-ring, Draupnir. Gerd would have none of these, and 
Skfrnir turned to threats. He would cut the girl’s head from her neck and kill 
her father as well. When these threats were of no avail, the messenger turned 
to curses, using mysterious words hardly comprehensible to us. Gerd would 
wither like a dry thistle ; she would be plagued with perversion and un- 
bridled sexual desire. When this last curse was uttered, the maid changed her 
mind. She agreed to meet Freyr after nine nights in the windless grove, Barri. 

Many years ago M. Olsen 76 gave an explanation of this story which, 
in broad outline, is still widely accepted. Freyr is god of sunshine and 
fertility; he is skin or ‘shining’, and his messenger, Skfrnir (the Bright) 
is only another form of the god himself. Freyr, as is told in the Loka- 
senna, had two other servants, Byggvir and the female Beyla. While 
the name of the first is probably derived from bygg (corn, barley), that 
of Beyla has been related to baula (cow). 77 

Gerd (Gerdr), whose name is related to gar dr (field), personifies the 
cornfield, held fast in the clutches of winter, i.e. of the frost-giants, 
among whom is counted Hrimgrimnir (Frost-masked). The god and his 
bride are to meet in the grove Barri. This name, it is said, derives from 
ban (barley). 78 

Such an explanation of the Skirnismdl implies that Gerd differs little 
from Nerthus, Terra Mater. 

It may also be implied that the Skirnismdl reflects a ritual act or 
drama, representing a marriage between the god of sunshine and fer- 
tility and his earthly bride. 79 



But the Skirnismdl is designed as a poem and a love-scory. It certainly 
contains phrases of great antiquity, probably inherited from ritual, 
while including elements which cannot be of great age. 

Influence of Old English has been seen in a number of words used in 
the poem, including ( hrim)kalkr (crystal cup) believed to derive from 
English calic . 80 More surprisingly, the influence -of Old English poetic 
diction is said to be present in vafrlogi (flickering flame), which has 
been compared ■with the Old English uxzfran liges , and with a number of 
similar expressions used in Old English poetry. 81 

The eleven golden apples offered by Skfrnir to the maid are some- 
what surprising in this context. They should probably be identified 
with the apples kept by Idunn, which the gods ate to prevent old age 
creeping on. In this case, the epli ellifu (eleven apples) of the Skirnismdl 
(19-20) might be emended to epli ellilyfs (apples of old-age medicine). 82 

If the story of Idunn’ s apples is ultimately of classical origin, it has 
closest affinities with Celtic stories, and particularly with the story of the 
children of Tuirenn. 83 Celtic influences have also been suspected in the 
enchanted fire, which none but the magic horse can penetrate. 84 

Freyr appears chiefly as a god of fertility. For some peoples, for whom 
welfare depended on the fertility of the crops, he was most important 
of all gods ; he was ‘god of the World 5 . 

Sowing, reaping and harvesting depended greatly on peace, and Freyr 
was god of peace. But, if he was the most worshipped, he must also have 
been a warrior and defender, and the sources make it plain that he 
was. He is ‘protector of the gods’ (dsajadarr ). 85 In the Husdrapa. , 86 he is 
said to rule the armies and, in the Skirnismdl (str. 3) he is folkvaldi goda 
(ruler of the hosts of the gods). Another name for Freyr is Atridi 87 prob- 
ably implying ‘one who rides to battle’. The kenning Freys leikr, used by 
Thorbjorn Hornklofi, has been interpreted as ‘Freyr’s sacrifice 5 , but it 
more probably means ‘the sport of Freyr, battle 5 . 88 


Freyr was the chief god of the Vanir and of fertility in the late pagan 
period, and his female counterpart was his sister, Freyja, the Vanadis 
(goddess of the Vanir), Vanabrudr (bride of the Vanir). Both Freyja and 
her brother were said to be children of Njord and his sister- wife (see Njord 
above). It is not told plainly how Freyja came to the world of the JEsir 
(see War of the TEsir, above), but it is told that she taught them witch- 
craft (seidr), and frequently that she was greedy and lascivious. She should 
be invoked in love, and she delighted in love-poetry (mansqngr) , such 
as was severely prohibited under the common law of Iceland 1 . 

Freyja had much in common with her brother. Pigs were sacred to 




her no less than to Freyr. One of her nicknames, Syr , can hardly mean 
other than ‘sow’, in spite of arguments to the contrary, 2 and she prob- 
ably took the form of a sow. In the Hyndluljod (strs. 5-7), a poem com- 
prising ancient beside late or ‘learned’ elements, 3 Freyja is seen riding a 
boar to Valholl. This boar was called Hildisvini (battle-boar) ; he had 
been made for Freyja by two dwarfs, and his golden bristles glowed 
like those of Freyr’s boar. A later passage in the same poem (str. 45) 4 
probably implies that Freyja’s lover had the form of a boar, although 
the lines are hard to interpret. 

The goddess was also related to other animals. She ran after her lover 
at night, as the mythical goat, HeiSrun, ran after billy-goats. 6 An early 
Christian poetaster described Freyja as a bitch {grey). 6 This man was 
convicted of blasphemy, but he may not have spoken loosely. As goddess 
of fertility and sensuality, Freyja was naturally associated, even identi- 
fied with prolific and sensual beasts. 

This is probably the meaning of a strange story told by Snorri. 7 
Freyja did not only ride on a boar, but also, like other Vanir, in a 
chariot. Freyja’s chariot was drawn by cats, and for this reason she 
might be called ‘owners of cats’ ( eigandi fressa ) . The motive has been 
compared with stories of oriental goddesses, and especially with that of 
Cybele, whose chariot was drawn by lions or panthers, 8 but it is not 
necessary to assume foreign origin. The cat, as the Norse pagans must 
have known, is the most lascivious of beasts. 

Freyja was the wife of OS ( 6 dr) , as appears both in the Vgluspd 
(str. 25) and in the Hyndluljod (str. 47) and again in the works of Snorri. 9 
OS, to judge by his name, can be no other than a doublet of OSinn, 10 
just as Ullinn must be a doublet of Ull. 11 The only story told of 05 bears 
this out. As OSinn went away on more than one occasion, so 05 went 
away, travelling long distances. Freyja went in search of him and, 
meanwhile, she wept tears of gold. For this reason poets would call gold 
‘Freyja’s tears’. 12 

This last story shows that Freyja was a divinity, not only of fertility 
but, like her father, of riches as well. 

Freyja owned the famous Brising necklace, or belt (Brisinga men), 13 
and a late story tells how she sold her chastity to some dwarfs in ex- 
change for a precious necklace which is probably to be identified with 
this one. 14 Freyja was said to have two daughters, both of whose names 
mean ‘jewel’ ( Hnoss and Gersemi ). The kenning Syrar mar (daughter of 
Syr) is used by HallfreS to mean ‘treasure’. 16 

Some stories of Freyja’s erotic life have already been given. It is told 
several times how giants lusted after her. The giant Hrungnir, who was 
entertained by the gods, threatened to destroy AsgarS and all its in- 


habitants except Freyja and Sif, whom he would keep for himself. 16 It is 
told in the Prymskvida, how the giant Thrym promised to return Thor’s 
stolen hammer if he could have Freyja as his bride. Snorri also told, in 
his elaborate story of building the wall of the gods’ citadel, how the 
giant mason stipulated that his wages should include Freyja. From the 
passage of the Vqluspd (str. 25), upon which Snorri’s story is chiefly 
founded, it seems that Freyja was already in the hands of giants. 

As Snorri tells the story of the wall, the giant mason demanded not 
only Freyja, but also the sun and the moon. This may help to show the 
meaning of the strange myth. The giants would plunge the world into 
eternal cold and darkness and take away the chief goddess of fertility. 
In other words, this myth has something in common with that of Freyr 
and GerS ; it symbolizes the change of seasons. The frost-giants (hrim- 
pursar) threaten eternal winter, sterility and darkness, such as northern 
peoples have reason to fear. 

Freyja, whom the giants wished to possess, bears a certain resem- 
blance to GerS, who was brought from the giant world. In the previous 
section, the story of GerS was seen as a seasonal fertility myth, and GerS 
was nearly identified with Nerthus and Terra Mater. But GerS, whose 
home could be reached only through a magic fire by a rider mounted 
on a magic horse, had some of the qualities of a shield maid 17 and hence 
of a valkyrie. Her mother was called Aurboda, which some read as 
Qrboda (arrow-bidder), 18 a fitting name for a valkyrie, and hence for a 
demon of war and death. 

Freyja had such qualities. She was not only a fertility goddess, but 
also one of war and death. It is told in the Grimnismdl (str. 14) that she 
lives in Folkvangr, interpreted as ‘battlefield’. Every day she chooses half 
of those who fall in battle, while OSinn takes the other half. Snorri 19 
tells how she rides to battle. 

The last story relates Freyja with OSinn. Their relationship is 
apparent in other myths. OSinn was god of wizardry (seidr), but it was 
Freyja who introduced these disreputable practices to the TEsir. 20 It is 
not surprising to read in a late source that Freyja was once the mistress 
of OSinn. 21 As already suggested, Freyja’s legitimate husband, 05 , can 
hardly be distinguished from OSinn. 

Freyja is thus goddess of fertility, birth and death, the ever-recurring 

The name Freyja corresponds with Freyr, and means only ‘Lady’. In 
other words it is a title and not a name. Freyja had many other names 
and Snorri 22 says that the reason for this is that she assumed different 
names on her journeys among various peoples, while she was looking 
for 05 . There is much truth in this, for it implies that Freyja had come 



to be identified with local fertility goddesses whom she resembled too 
closely to be clearly distinguished. 

Freyja is called Hgrn (Horn) . This name is frequently used by scalds 
in kennings for ‘woman’, and it is commonly related to the O.N. hgrr 
and Swedish dialect hor 23 meaning ‘flax, linen’. This implies that Horn 
was a goddess of flax and her cult appears, on the evidence of place- 
names, to be old and locally restricted. Forms such as Harnevi , probably 
corresponding to an O.N. *Hgrnarv t (Temple of Horn) are recorded 
several times in Swedish Uppland, while Jarnevi , said to be of the same 
origin, is found in Ostergotland . 24 Some have seen the name of Horn in 
Danish place-names, but the examples given are questionable . 25 

Freyja is also called Mardgll (or Marpoll) , especially in kennings for 
gold of the type Mar dollar tdr (Mardoll’s tears), Mardallar hvarma fagrregn 
(the fair rain of Mardoll’s eyelids ). 26 The first element in this name is 
probably man (sea) , and the second may be related to Dellingr and thus 
indicate light . 27 

Another name for Freyja is Gefn, which appears frequently in ken- 
nings for ‘woman’, such as linnvengis Gefn (Gefn of the serpent’s field, 
gold ). 28 It is commonly related to the verb gefa (to give), and thus im- 
plies that the goddess is the giver of riches, fertility, wellbeing . 29 This 
must also be the meaning of Gefjun (see VIII, Gefjun), but Gefjun 
appears in myth as a separate goddess, not identified with Freyja . 30 

Little is told of the worship of Freyja. In the Hyndluljod (str. 10) the 
goddess is made to boast of her favourite, Ottar, who had set up an 
altar (hgrgr) for her and reddened it with sacrificial blood. But the place- 
names of Scandinavia show that the cult of Freyja was widespread and 
comparatively old. In place-names it is often difficult to distinguish 
Freyja from her brother Freyr, but a general picture of the types and 
distribution of the names in which Freyja is remembered may be 

M. Olsen 31 counts between twenty and thirty place-names com- 
pounded with Freyja in Norway alone. Three of these appear to go 
back to a *Freyjuhof (Freyja’s temple). In others the goddess’s name is 
compounded with words for ‘meadow’ {-pveit, -land) and suchlike. 
These names are particularly common on the west coast, and a con- 
siderable number are also found in the south-east. 

In Sweden, the place-names compounded with Freyja are even more 
numerous and varied. They are distributed over a wide area, although 
they are particularly common in Uppland. A number of them are of the 
types *Freyjuv 6 (Freyja’s sanctuary, temple) and *Freyjulundr (Freyja’s 
grove ), 32 preserving memories of public worship. Specialists also see a 
word corresponding with Gothic alhs , Old English ealh (temple) in such 



names as Fwal, Fr dale 33 of which a number of examples are recorded in 
Sweden, although these are open to other interpretations. The name of 
Freyja is also found in many instances compounded with words for 
fields, meadows, besides rocks, lakes and other natural objects . 34 





Tyr — UU — Bragi — Idunn—Gefjun—Frigg and others 

When we talk of minor gods and goddesses, we mean those about 
whose cult and myths in the north we have little knowledge. It is not 
necessarily implied that they had always been of little importance but, 
in some instances, their cult was so old as to be obscured by the time 
our records took shape. 

Tyr . . 

One of these faded gods was Tyr, who was undoubtedly of great signi- 
ficance, if not in Scandinavia, at least in Germany and perhaps in 

England. . 

Tyr plainly had much to do with runes and with runic magic. The 
rune $ ( t ) is called by his name both in the Norwegian and Icelandic 
runic poems, and the name Ur given to it in the Old English Runic 
Poem, varying with ti in the Salzburg manuscript, must be of the same 
origin. 1 

In the Sigrdrifumal (Words of Sigrdrifa, str. 16), it is said that one who 
hopes for victory must carve runes on the hilt and other parts of his 
sword, and he must repeat the name of T^r three times. 

Both the Norwegian and Icelandic runic poets said that Tyr was 
one-handed and him einhendi dss (the one-handed god) was said to be a 
proper designation of him. 2 Several poets allude to the loss of Tf r’s 
right hand, 3 but the story how he lost it is told by Snorri alone. 4 

Among the children of Loki and the giantess, Angrboda, 5 was the 
wolf, Fenrir. He was reared by the iEsir, but only Tf r had the courage 
to feed him. Knowing what damage was to be expected of this wolf, the 
gods resolved to chain him. He broke two chains, but the third was a 
magic one, worked by dwarfs. It was made of the noise of a cat, the 
beard of a woman, breath of fish and spittle of bird. It was smooth and 
soft as a silken thread, but the wolf would only allow himself to be 
bound with it so long as one of the gods placed his hand between his 


jaws as a pledge. Only Tyr dared do this; he lost his hand, but the wolf 
was bound and will not break loose before the Ragnarok, when he will 
be the death of Odinn. 

This story reminds us immediately of that of Nuadu of the silver 
hand (see Gh. VII). Indeed Tyr, with his one hand seems to be juxta- 
posed to Odinn with his one eye, as Nuadu with his one hand stood 
beside Lug with his magic and his closed eye. Some have seen the story 
of Tyr in a far wider perspective. They have regarded Tyr, not only as a 
war-god, as he is often said to be, but also as a god of contract and jus- 
tice. The cruel, magical Odinn is thus contrasted with Tyr, as Varuna, 
god of night, is contrasted with Mitra, god of day. 6 

Snorri 7 characterizes Tyr in general terms. He is no peacemaker, and, 
to a great extent, he disposes of victory. He is bravest of gods, and bold 
men should invoke him. In the Ragnarok, Tyr will meet the wolf Garm, 
and they will kill each other. Tyr is said by Snorri to be son of Odinn 
but, according to the Hymiskvida (str. 5), he was son of the giant, 

The place-names of Scandinavia tell something of Tf r’s cult, and 
suggest that it was practised chiefly in Denmark. A number of forms 
representing O.N. Tyslundr (Tyr’s Grove) have been recorded, besides 
others applied to lakes sacred to the god. 8 Names of this type in Sweden 
are few, if any, while Norway provides the exceptionally interesting 
Tysnesoen (island of Tyr’s headland) in Sunnhordland. This lies in a 
district formerly called Njardarlqg or ‘law-district of Njord’. 9 

Tyr, as is well known, was given the Latin name Mars, and hence 
most Germanic peoples rendered Dies Martis by Tuesday (O.N. Tysdagr) 
and suchlike. It is clear that the Romans saw him chiefly as a war- 

This is borne out by other allusions in the works of classical authors 
to the Germanic Mars. The Goths sacrificed prisoners to him, believing 
that the war-god was best propitiated with human blood. 10 The 
Hermundurii also offered human sacrifice to him, 11 while others re- 
garded him as the highest of the gods. 12 

The name Mars appears on a number of votive stones from Germanic 
areas. An especially interesting one was found at Housesteads, by 
Hadrian’s Wall. It dates from the third century, and was evidently 
erected for Germanic soldiers in Roman service. It was dedicated to 
Mars Thingsus ( Deo Marti Tingso . . .). If, as is widely believed, Mars 
Thingsus is Tyr, god of the ping, or judicial assembly, the argument that 
Tyr was god of justice, as well as of war, gains much support. 13 

As the name of the rune ( Tir, Ti) shows, the heathen English knew the 
god Tyr. Old English writers occasionally glossed the Latin Mars by 



Tiw (Tig). 1 * The name of this god has also been seen in some of the 
place-names of southern England. 15 

The name Tjr is generally said to derive from an older * Tiwaz . It 
has been equated with Latin deus, Old Irish dia, Sanscrit deoa which is 
also seen in the O.N. plural tivar (gods). In this case Tfr means no 
other than ‘god’. Some, however, relate it more closely with names of 
gods deriving from the same root, Greek feus, Sanscrit Dyaus . 16 In this 
case, Tp is stamped as an exceedingly ancient god of the sky and the 
day. In either case he must once have occupied a high position in the 
hierarchy, although he is not clearly described in our records. 


We know hardly more of the god Ull than of Tyr. Saxo gives one story 
of him, and Snorri 1 tells that he was son of Thor’s wife, Sif, and thus 
stepson of Thor. He was of splendid appearance, had the qualities of a 
warrior and should be invoked in single combat. He was so skilled on 
skis that none could compete with him, and besides this he was an 
archer. He could be called the ski-god ( qndurdss ), the bow-god (bogadss), 
the hunting-god (yeididss ) , as well as the shield-god ( skjaldar ass). 

In the Grimnismal (str. 5) it is told that UlTs home was in Ydalir (Yew 
dales). In the same poem (str. 42) Odinn placed between fires, promised 
the favours of Ull and of all the gods to the one who first relieved him. 

A more striking allusion to Ull is made in the Atlakvida (str. 30). 
G'udrun, cursing her perjurious husband, Atli, reminded him how he 
had sworn oaths to her brother, whom he had now betrayed. The last of 
these oaths, and presumably the most solemn, was on the ‘ring of Ull’ 
[at hringi Uttar ) . 

The name of Ull is used often enough in scaldic kennings, but they 
add little. A warrior may be called ‘Ull of battle’ or ‘Ull of the battle- 
goddess’, and a poet ‘Ull of poetry’. 2 Thor is called ‘Ull’s stepfather’ by 
one of the oldest scalds. 3 Kennings of the type ‘Ull’s ship’ for ‘shield’ are 
more puzzling, and must represent a myth no longer clearly remem- 
bered. 4 They may remind us of the story of the giant Hrungnir, who 
stood on his shield. 5 

Little as Snorri and the poets have told, they show that Ull was not 
isolated in the Norse pantheon. He was not only son of Sif, but he also 
bore a remarkable resemblance to SkaQi, the giantess wife of NjorS. 6 
Both travelled on skis, hunted and wielded the bow. Ull must, there- 
fore, be related to NjorS himself, although the two gods can hardly be 
identified. 7 

Ull, as was said, lives in Ydalir (Yew-dales). There can be little 
doubt that the ever-green yew was held sacred, whether or not the 



Yggdrasill and holiest tree at Uppsalir were yews. 8 The best bows were 
made of yew, 9 and it is not surprising that the archer-god should live 
where yews flourished. 

Students of Scandinavian place-names have thrown remarkable light 
on Ull and his cult. Names of which Ull- forms the first element are 
found in great numbers in central and eastern Sweden, as well as in 
south-eastern and southern Norway, with several examples on the west 
coast. In Denmark, on the other hand, no certain examples of this 
element have been detected. 10 

The types of place-name vary, but in Sweden the god’s name is most 
frequently combined with words often applied to sanctuaries and places 
of public worship, e.g. vd, hgrgr, lundr, akr. In Norway, on the other hand, 
the name Ull- is compounded rather with words applied to meadows, 
pastures, e.g. engi, land, vin , pveit, also with words applied to purely 
natural objects, e.g. ey, hvdll , nes, vik. 

But the Norwegian place-names show that there was also a god called 

* Ullinn, whose name stands in the same relation to Ull ( Ullr) as Odinn to 
6 dr, n and they can be little more than variants. In Norway the name 

* Ullinn- is three times combined with -hof (temple), as well as with 
vangr and akr . 12 

The distribution of place-names compounded with Ull-, *Ullim- 
shows that the cult was once very widespread and of great importance, 
particularly in eastern Sweden. The findings of recent research also 
suggest that the cult of Ull was old, and was overshadowed by those of 
other gods, particularly Thor, Freyr, Freyja, before the time reflected 
in literary records. 13 

There are certain reasons, if not strong ones, to doubt whether the 
cult of Ull was really extinguished so early as is commonly supposed. 
If the word hof (temple) is not a loan-word, it is unlikely that it was 
applied to temples long before the Viking Age. 14 This suggests that the 
Ull(inn) commemorated in the Norwegian *Ullinshof was still wor- 
shipped at that time. The late Olafur Larusson 15 remarked on a great 
number of Icelandic place-names in which the first element was Uttar-. 
This could well be the genitive of the word ull (wool) , but when we find 
Uttarfoss standing next to Godafoss (fall of gods) , and Ullarklettur next to 
Godaklettur (gods’ cliff), we may wonder whether the name of the god 
Ull is not the first element in the compound. 

It was noted that Odinn, promising the blessings of all gods to the 
one who rescued him from the fires, named Ull alone. This, in itself, is a 
sign that Ull filled an important place. The impression is confirmed by 
the Atlakvida , in which the most solemn oath is sworn on the ring of 
Ull. This can be no other than the baugeidr, the oath on the sacred arm- 




ring, which Icelandic heathens swore in the names of Freyr, NjorS and 
the all-powerful god. 16 It is implied that for some peoples and at some 
times Ull was, if not chief of the gods, at least god of security and law. 

Ull’s eminence is also suggested in the only surviving myth about 
him, which is told by Saxo. 17 Odinn chief of the gods, had disgraced the 
name of godhead by disguising himself as a woman in order to beget an 
avenger for Baldr. 18 Therefore he was expelled and replaced by Ollerus 
(Ull), who reigned for ten years and even assumed Odinn’s name. In 
the end the gods took pity on Odinn and restored him. Ollerus fled to 
Sweden, but was afterwards killed by Danes. It was also told of Ollerus 
that he was a magician, and used to cross the sea on a bone inscribed 
with spells. In this some have seen a basis for the shield-kenning ‘ship of 
Ull’. 19 

The story of Ull’s usurpation of Odinn’s throne places him on a par 
with certain other mythical figures. On an earlier occasion, Saxo 20 tells, 
Odinn left his kingdom in disgust at the unchastity of his wife, Frigg. 
His place was taken by another magician, Mithotyn, who also fled 
when Odinn returned, and was afterwards killed. The name Mithotyn 
defies interpretation, 21 but it is difficult to believe that its second element 
is other than the name of Odinn himself. The tales both of Mithotyn 
and Ollerus imply that these impostors competed with Odinn for 
sovereignty. A similar meaning may be found in a story told by Snorri. 22 
When Odinn was away, his brothers Vila and Ve 23 ruled the kingdom 
and shared Frigg. 

The meaning of Ull’s name has long been disputed. 24 Of all the in- 
terpretations offered, one of the oldest has won most approval. The 
name is equated with Gothic wulpus (glory, perhaps brilliance), and 
Old English wuldor (glory, splendour, honour). This name may per- 
haps be seen in older form in the inscription found on a chape from 
Thorsbjcerg (Slesvig), of about ad 300. This reads ( o)wlpupewaR . . ., 
and some have interpreted it as ‘servant of Ull’. 25 

If the name of Ull means ‘glory or brilliance’, it is not difficult to 
believe that he was a sky-god. On his snow-shoes, as de Vries suggests, 26 
Ull may represent the brilliance of the winter sky. 

It has been suggested that Tyr was also a sky-god. With his one arm, 
he corresponds with the one-eyed Odinn. While the cult of Tyr seems 
to be little known north of Denmark, that of Ull seems hardly to be 
known in Denmark or south of it. It looks as if Ull in the north was 
what Tyr was in the south. 

We could believe that Ull and Tyr had been, for many peoples, the 
chief gods, even the sky-gods. In the course of the Viking Age, they 
were overshadowed by the furious, rabid Odinn. 



Odinn was described as god of poetry, as well as of runes and secret 
wisdom. 1 Nevertheless, he had one competitor, Bragi. In the Grimnismdl 
(str. 44), Bragi is named as the foremost of poets (ceztr . . . skdlda ), 
and the Sigrdrifumal (str. 16) tells cryptically of runes or spells carved on 
Bragi’s tongue. He takes part in bickering with Loki, as described in the 
Lokasenna (strs. 8 ff), and is said to be husband of Idunn, who guarded 
the apples of eternal youth. 2 

Snorri tells little more about Bragi, and there is no evidence of any 
cult. But the position of this god is complicated. 

The first man to whom credible tradition assigns poetry in 
scaldic form was Bragi Boddason the Old. This man, author of the 
Ragnarsdrdpa, was probably a native of south-western Norway and, 
to judge by the genealogies in which he figures, was born about 
83 0-40. 3 

In the Eiriks Mai (Lay of Eirik Bloodaxe), 4 composed about the 
middle of the tenth century, Odinn calls his henchmen to welcome the 
dead monarch in Valholl. These henchmen are the famous Volsung 
heroes, Sigmund and Sinfjotli, besides Bragi. This motive is repeated by 
Eyvind in the Hdkonar Mai (Lay of Hakon), 6 in which Bragi is named 
among the welcomers of Hakon the Good together with Hermod. 
Her mod is generally said to be the son of Odinn, 6 although the name is 
also applied to a legendary hero in the Hyndluljod (str. 2), and a Heremod 
is named in Beowulf as a king of the Danes. 

We must wonder whether the Bragi named in the Lays of Eirfk and 
of Hakon is the god of poetry or the historical poet who, with other 
heroes, had joined Odinn’s chosen band. We may even wonder whether 
we should not identify the two. This would imply that the historical 
poet, like other great men, had been raised to the status of godhead after 
death. 7 The suspicion grows deeper when it is realized that the name 
Bragi was applied to certain other legendary and historical figures, and 
that gods’ names are rarely applied to men. 

Even this explanation leaves a difficulty. The word bragr 8 is occa- 
sionally used for ‘poetry’, and Snorri 9 says that it derives from the name 
of the god. This same word is used in later Icelandic for ‘manner, way, 
form, etc’, 10 and the semantic development may be comparable with 
that of hdttr, which also means ‘manner, way, form 5 , but in a more 
specialized sense is used for ‘poetic form’. 

There is also another bragr which, as it is used, means ‘chief or best’. 11 
Whatever its ultimate origin, 12 this word must be related to the Old 
English brego , which is used in the same way. 

Such evidence as we possess does not suggest that Bragi was an 



ancient god, but rather that he was an historical poet, whom mytho- 
logical speculators had promoted to the rank of godhead. 

Idunn . 

I have several times touched on the story of I Sunn. 1 Only one myth is 
told of her. As Snorri has it, 2 she kept magic apples in a basket. When 
the gods began to grow old they would bite them and would be young 
again. Through the guile of Loki, XSunn and her apples fell into the 
hands of giants, and the gods became old and hoary. They met in 
council and compelled Loki to recover Idunn and the apples. Taking 
the form of a falcon, he flew into the Giant World, where he found the 
goddess. He changed her into the shape of a nut and flew off, while the 
giant pursued him in the form of an eagle. 

ISunn is said to be the wife of Bragi. As was noted above, some have 
doubted whether Bragi was really a god, partly because his name is also 
used as a personal name. Idunn’s name is also found several times in 
historical sources as a personal name, 3 and there is no strong evidence 
from place-names or other sources that she was the object of a cult. 4 

Nevertheless, the myth of Idunn and her rape is not altogether a late 
invention. It is described by Thjodolfof Hvinin the Haustlgng of about 
ad 900. 5 If only because of their obscurity, Thjodolf’s lines show that 
Idunn was well known in his day. Thjodolf mentions no apples, but he 
alludes to Idunn as the one who knew the old-age medicine of the gods 
(pd er ellilyf dsa . . . kunni). 

The story of the apples has been said to be of foreign origin. Cultivated 
apples were not known in Scandinavia until the late Middle Ages. 6 But 
the Norse word epli , which appears in various forms in all Germanic 
languages, does not only mean ‘apple’. It is applied to other round 
fruits, and even to acorns. 7 

The story of Idunn’s apples has been compared with well-known 
Jewish and classical ones, but it most closely resembles the Irish tale of 
the sons of Tuirenn. 8 The three sons robbed apples from the garden of 
Hisberna. These apples had medicinal properties. If they were eaten by 
a wounded man, or one in mortal illness, he would be healed at once. 
However much the apples were eaten, they would never grow smaller. 
The resemblance between the Norse and Irish stories is particularly in 
the way in which the apples were seized. The sons of Tuirenn took the 
form of hawks and were pursued by three female guardians of the 
apples in the form of griffins. 

It is not necessary to assume influence of one of these stories upon the 
other, although they must derive from a common stock. In this instance, 
as in many others, the myths of the two most westerly peoples resemble 



each other most closely. The seizure of the precious food by one in the 
form of a hawk or falcon, and his pursuit by its guardian in the form of 
an eagle remind us also of Odinn and the theft of the mead of poetry.® 
We may think, more remotely, of Indra, who stole the soma in the 
form of an eagle. 

The apple and other round fruits may be seen as symbols of fertility 
and death. This is brought out strongly in another Irish story, that of 
Conle (Connla), 10 who received a magic apple from the woman of the 
Other World, with whom he afterwards went to live. Whether or not 
the wild apples of Scandinavia had practical value, they probably had a 
similar significance. This is suggested by the large numbers of wild 
apples found in buckets and other containers in the Oseberg grave, in 
one case together with grain. 11 

The rape of Idunn and her apples resembles several other Norse 
stories. Gerd was in the hands of giants, and was taken from them by 
Freyr’s emissary, Skirnir, the bright one. 12 The giants often lusted after 
Freyja and, as well as her, they demanded the sun and the moon. These 
demons of death would plunge the world into sterility and darkness. 
Idunn, in this case, can be little different from Gerd and Freyja. Like 
Freyja, she was called the most erotic of goddesses, and was said to have 
consorted with her brother’s slayer. 13 It may be implied in an obscure 
strophe of the Skirnismal (str. 16) that Gerd did the same. In another 
strophe of the same poem (str. 19) it may even be implied that Gerd 
was to possess the sacred apples. 14 


Snorri twice tells a story of Gefjun, whose name may be compared with 
Freyja’s nickname Gefn. 1 

As Snorri has it in his Edda , 2 Gylfi, mythical king of the Swedes, 
rewarded a vagrant woman, Gefjun, with a piece of land of the size 
which four oxen could plough up in a single day. Gefjun came of the 
race of the iEsir. She brought four oxen from the Giant World, but 
they were really her own sons by a giant. The plough cut wide and deep 
and the land was tom up from the Swedish Lqgrinn (Malaren), and 
dragged to the Danish Zealand, where it came to rest. That is why 
headlands in Zealand correspond with inlets in Lqgrinn like a jigsaw. 

In the Tnglinga Saga (V), Snorri tells the story differently. Odinn, 
migrating from the east, came to Fyn in Denmark. He sent Gefjun 
north to look for land. Gylfi granted her a measure, and she went on 
to the Giant World, where she begat four sons by a giant. She turned 
them into oxen and yoked them to the plough, and so dragged, the land 
to Zealand. 



In both passages, Snorri quotes a verse by Bragi, the ninth-century 
scald. This is agreed to belong to the Ragnarsdrdpa , and the poet de- 
scribes one of the panels on the painted shield which Ragnar Lodbrok 
had given him. 

Commentators do not agree about the interpretation of some details 
in these lines, 3 but the general picture is tolerably clear. Gefjun was seen 
dragging the addition to Denmark ( Danmarkar auka) away from Gylfi, 
while the draught-beasts steamed with sweat. The oxen in the picture 
had four heads and eight moonlike eyes ( ennitungl ). 

It is evident that Gefjun, like Freyja or Gefn, is a goddess of fertility 
and especially of the plough. This implies that we have to do with a 
myth based upon ritual ploughing, such as that described in the Old 
English charm addressed to Erce, eorpan modor (Erce, mother of earth). 
When the first furrow was cut, the mother of earth should be greeted, 
and milk, flour of every kind and holy water should be laid in it. 4 

Little more is told of Gefjun. In the Lokasenna (str. 20) she is accused 
of selling her chastity for a jewel (sigli), as Freyja was once said to do, 5 
More surprisingly, Snorri 6 says that Gefjun was a virgin, and that vir- 
gins went to her when they died. 

It cannot be told how far Gefjun was the object of a cult. The story 
about her must be of Danish origin, and some scholars claim to see her 
name in place-names of Denmark, such as Gevm and Gentofted Funda- 
mentally, Gefjun can differ little from Gefn and Freyja, although she 
appears to be a particularly Danish variation. 

Frigg and some others 

The goddess Frigg has been mentioned several times because of her 
relations with other gods. She was mother of Baldr, 1 and it was seen 
that very early continental sources knew her as wife of O Sinn. 2 In the 
Second Merseburg Charm, in which she appeared as Frija, she accom- 
panied OSinn (Wodan) and other deities. 3 Among these was Volla, 
called sister of Frija. Volla can hardly be other than Fulla, whom 
Snorri 4 presents as Frigg’s confidential attendant. 

These bare allusions to Frigg in the continental sources show that, 
since early times, Frigg had a place in the divine hierarchy comparable 
with that which she has in the Norse literature. Her age and eminence 
are shown in the name of the weekday, Friday (O.E. Frigedag, O. Fris. 
Fri{g)endei) for dies Veneris , which was borrowed in Old Norse as 

Frjddagr. 5 _ 

Several allusions are made to Frigg’s loose morals. Loki 6 upbraids 
her for consorting with OSinn’ s brothers, Vili and Ve, 7 while Saxo 8 
speaks of her unchastity and rapacity. 



Some of the myths, however, show Frigg in another light. She is the 
tragic, weeping, loving mother of Baldr. It was she who took oaths from 
all things to spare her son, and sent HermoS to the Underworld to ran- 
som him. Like her husband, Frigg knew the fates, and, on occasion, 
even outwitted him. 9 She lived in a palace called Fensalir, which per- 
haps means ‘Water-halls’ or ‘Marsh-halls’. 10 

In the Lokasenna (str. 26) Frigg is called Fjqrgyns mar, and Snorri 11 
says that she was daughter of Fjorgynn. 12 Nothing more is known about 
Fjorgynn, and so scholars must be content to speculate on the origin of 
his name. 13 

Considering Frigg’s antiquity and exalted position, it is surprising 
how little evidence there is of her worship. Some have claimed to find 
her name in place-names, for the most part in Sweden. Most of these 
are of doubtful origin, although two, which probably go back to *Frigg- 
jarakr ( Frigg’ s Cornfield) have been noticed in Vastergotland. 14 

Although there is little evidence of the worship of Frigg, and few 
myths are told of her, she must have been well known to the viking in- 
vaders of England. When Old English writers glossed the name of 
Venus they did not use the English * Frige, but rather an anglicized 
form of the Norse name, Fricg {Frycg) . One metrical homilist wrote : 

Sone syxtan dccg hi gesetton The sixth day they appointed 
Saere sceamleasan gydenan to the shameless goddess 

Uenus gehaten called Venus 

ond Frycg on Denise and Fricg in Danish . 15 

Together with Frigg and Freyja, Snorri 16 names many other god- 
desses. These include Saga, Eir the doctor, Sjofn a love goddess, Lofn, 
Var who heard oaths passing between men and women, and Gnd, 
Frigg’s messenger, whose horse, Hofvarpnir (Hoof- thrower), gallops 
through the sky. The names of most of these goddesses are used as basic 
words in scaldic kennings, 17 but myths of them are hardly to be found. 
Some of them might be regarded as local variations of the better-known 
goddesses. . 

JorS (Earth), the mother of Thor has been mentioned. 18 She was also 
called Fjdrgyn , which must be a feminine form of the name Fjqrgym. In 
fact, poets use fjqrgyn as a word for ‘earth’, and this may well have been 
its original meaning. 





The belief in the divinity of kings is world-wide, and is among the 
oldest religious conceptions which can be traced. Kings are commonly > 
thought to form a bridge between the worlds of gods and of men. 
Among some peoples they are thought to descend from the sky and 
return to it at the end of their reign. 1 

Scandinavians, like their relatives in Germany and England, as well 
as their Celtic neighbours, believed that their kings were divine, assur- 
ing victory, good weather and harvests. But when we come to consider 
Norse conceptions of divine kingship more closely, we face difficulties 
and much obscurity. In what sense were the northern kings divine? 

The king might be regarded as the incarnation of a god ; he might be 
the god on earth. He might alternatively be the son of the god, or his 
physical descendant, or he might, in some less clearly defined way, be . 
endowed with divine force, as if he were the emanation of the god. 
Probably all of these conceptions were current among Norsemen at 
various times and in different regions. 

Since it is one of our oldest records, it is pertinent to consider the 
story told by the Gothic historian, Jordanes U. 550) 2 about the origins 
of the Goths. The Goths, according to this historian, came from Scan- 
dinavia, most probably Gautland, or southern Sweden. They may have 
left Scandinavia before the beginning of our era, and they made their 
way to the region of the Black Sea. Jordanes tells that, after a memorable 
victory over the Romans in the reign of Domitian (ad 81-96), the Goths 
could no longer regard their princes ( proceres ) , by whose fortune ( fortuna ) 
the battle had been won, as ordinary men [pur os homines ), but they saw 
them as demigods ( semideos ) or Ansis. 

Philologists commonly agree that the name Ansis is equivalent to Old 
Norse JEsir, the name of the divine tribe to which OQinn, Thor and Tyr 
belonged. 3 These Ansis were the ancestors of the Amalani, the clan who 
ruled the Ostro-Goths down to the time of Theodoric (died 526). The 
first of them was called Gapt in texts of Jordanes’s work. Gapt, as most 
would agree, is a scribal corruption of Gout-. This name occurs in Old 
Norse texts as Gautr, and it is one of the many names applied to OSinn 


(see Gh. II, OSinn’s Names). While it would be rash to conclude that 
Gaut and OSinn were originally identical, Jordanes’s story shows that 
the Ostro-Goths in south-eastern Europe held that their princes were of 
divine origin, and themselves semi-divine. 

When we return to northern Europe, we find evidence of beliefs 
which are nearly the same. Tacitus provides some of this evidence, and 
it is supplemented by that of scaldic poets, Icelandic historians and the 
Dane, Saxo, writing about eleven centuries later than Tacitus. Tacitus 
( Germania II) relates that, in ancient songs, the Germans celebrated 
their descent from a god Tuisto and his son Mannus, to whom they 
assigned three sons. From these three, the three great tribes of Ger- 
many descended, viz. Ingasvones (Ingvasones), Herminiones, Istaevones 
(Istraeones). These tribes, as has frequently been suggested, must 
descend from three divine brothers, whose names might be *Ingvaz, 
*Erminaz, *Istraz. 

It was seen (Ch. VII) that this Ingvaz, who chiefly concerns us here, 
could be identified with Freyr, or Yngvi-Freyr, who was remembered’ 
as a divine king of the Swedes. Indeed, Freyr bore the marks typical of 
divine kingship. His reign was one of fruitful harvests and peace. He 
died like other kings, but his subjects continued to revere him after 
death. They brought offerings of gold, silver and copper to his tomb, 
and peace and plenty persisted. All kings of the Swedes took the title j 
Yngvi, and their clan, the Ynglingar, were thought to descend from j 
Freyr. A 

According to the Prologue to Snorri’s Edda , 4 other ruling houses of 
Scandinavia were also of divine origin. OSinn, on his way from Asia 
Minor, came to ReiSgotaland or Jutland, where he left his son Skjold as 
ruler; from him the kings of Denmark, the Skjoldungar, are descended. 
Odinn went later to Norway, where he placed his son Sseming in 
charge. Certain rulers of Norway descended from Sseming, as is cele- 
brated in the poem Hdleygjatal of the tenth century. 

The earlier successors of Yngvi-Freyr were plainly mythical figures, 
and are depicted as king-gods, although they gradually developed 
human failings. Fjolnir, son of Yngvi-Freyr, brought fertility to the 
crops and peace as his father had done, but in the end he fell into a vat 
of mead and was drowned. A few generations later came Domaldi. 5 In 
his reign the crops failed and there were years of famine. First of all the 
Swedes sacrificed oxen, but the seasons did not improve. In the next 
year they offered human sacrifice, but still the crops grew no better. 

In the third year the Swedes decided that their misfortunes must stem 
from the king himself; they fell upon him and slaughtered him as a 
sacrifice for better harvests. This was the first, but not the only king 

19 * 



whom the Swedes were said to have sacrificed. Many other peoples 
are known to have slaughtered their kings, either because the crops 
failed, or because they did not succeed in war, or else because they were 
growing old and their divine force, which Norsemen might call gafa or 
heill, had left them. 6 

As already said, these early Yngling kings are mythical figures. The 
stories about them were preserved largely in poetry of the ninth and 
tenth centuries and, although not historical, they give an idea of the way 
in which Scandinavians of that period thought of their kingship. 

While the first Yngling kings were mythical, their supposed descen- 
dants were historical, or at least partly so. For Snorri, as for Thjodolf, 
author of the Tnglingatal , their chief importance was that they were said 
to be ancestors of the kings of Norway. One of these later Ynglingar was 
Olaf Tretelgja (Wood-cutter). He had been driven from Uppsala and 
cleared the forests of Vermaland (S.W. Sweden). Great crowds of 
Swedes, exiled by a Danish conqueror, flocked to join him, but the 
newly tilled soil could not support them; crops failed and there was 
famine. As Snorri says, it was the practice to attribute both good and 
bad harvests to their king. Since Olaf was an irreligious man, little given 
to sacrifice, his followers gathered arms, seized his house and burned 
him in it as a sacrifice to Odinn, believing that harvests would improve. 
Other medieval historians give different accounts of Olaf s fate, but 
Snorri’s interpretation of an obscure verse, in which allusion is made to 
it, is probably correct. 7 

Tradition had it that Harald Finehair and the subsequent kings of 
Norway descended from the Ynglingar through Olaf the Wood-cutter. 
Whatever the historical truth of this tradition, it is plain that the Nor- 
wegians, like the Swedes, believed that their kings were descended from 
gods and were imbued with divine force. The belief in divine kingship 
is closely associated with the fertility of the soil, and most Norwegians 
were less deeply concerned with this than were the people of central 
Sweden. Perhaps for this reason the belief in divine kingship seems to 
be less dominant among the Norwegians than among the Swedes, but 
it is plain that it was held in Norway as well as in Sweden. It is told of 
one of the minor kings of Norway, Halfdan the Black (ninth century), 
that his dead body was taken to the province of Hringariki for burial, 
but the inhabitants of the three neighbouring provinces objected, each 
thinking that the presence of the king’s body in their own territory 
would bring good harvests. According to one text, 8 men had never 
known a king whose reign was blessed with better harvests. The dispute, 
according to Snorri, 9 was resolved in this way. The king’s body was 
divided into four parts and a part was buried in each of four provinces. 

There are variants of this story, 10 but the tradition which Snorri repre- 
sents reflects the same tradition as that which appears in the legend of 
Yngvi-Freyr, to whose dead body the Swedes brought sacrifice, believ- 
ing that peace and prosperity would persist, so long as it remained un- 
cremated in Sweden. 

Later kings of Norway were also held responsible for the prosperity of 
their subjects. The sons of Eirik Bloodaxe (died c. 954) had been 
brought up partly in the British Isles and were Christians, at least in 
name. Under the leadership of Harald Greycloak, they seized the king- 
dom of Norway. According to a contemporary poet, Einar Skalaglamm, 
they broke down the temples, and thus put down sacrifice. Their reign 
was cursed by failure of the crops, and the seasons went awry. Eyvind 
the Plagiarist, another contemporary poet, said that while these men 
ruled Norway, snow fell at midsummer, and farmers had to keep their 
stock under cover like the Lapps. 

Hakon the Great (died 995) followed the sons of Eirik as ruler of 
Norway. Unlike them, Hakon was an ardent pagan, and when he gained 
power he restored the temples and the sacrifices, and prosperity re- 
turned. As Snorri said, the herring swam right up to the shore and the 
corn flourished wherever it was sown. Einar Skalaglamm, who was 
Hakon’s favourite poet, celebrated the restored fertility in memorable 
lines, which William Morris and E. Magnusson translated : 

Now as afore earth groweth 

since once again gold-waster (generous prince) 

lets spear-bridge (shields) wielders (men) wend them 

gladheart to holy places . 11 

The stories cited so far — some of them true and others apocryphal- 
show that Swedes and Norwegians believed that the seasons and crops 
depended on the conduct of their king and his relations with the gods. 
They believed, as some people in England still do, in ‘royal weather’. 
The kings, descended from gods, incorporated some of the attributes of 
godhead, although this is not to say that they were incarnate gods. 

Medieval historians give some slight indication that the concept of 
the incarnate god was not unknown in heathen Scandinavia, although 
it was perhaps not widespread and not clearly formulated. An interest- 
ing story is told of St Olaf (died 1030). In a mysterious way, this arch- 
enemy of heathendom was linked with a heathen Olaf, a petty king of 
S.E. Norway, who lived in the ninth century. The earlier Olaf had 
the nicknames Geirstadadlfr (Elf of Geirstadir) and Digrbeinn (Thick-leg). 
He was reputed to be the uncle of Harald Finehair, first king of all 
Norway, and son of Gudrod the Hunting-king, and thus a descendant 




of the Yngling kings of the Swedes. A short time before his death, Olaf 
the Elf had a dream. He saw a huge ox rising in Gautland. The ox 
walked through Olaf’s dominions; he came to every farm and blew on 
the inhabitants and they dropped dead, even the king himself. Olaf took 
this dream to mean that severe pestilence would afflict his kingdom, and 
that he would die with many others. He ordered his subjects to build a 
great burial mound when he was dead, and to put him in it in full 
regalia in a chair, but he asked them not to bring sacrifice to him. 

Thus, many years passed, and the king’s last wish was ignored. When 
the crops failed and famine succeeded pestilence, sacrifice was brought 
to Olaf for fruitful harvests, and that was why he came to be called the 
Elf of Geirstadir. 

In the first year of Olaf Tryggvason’s reign (995), Hrani, a landholder 
of this region had another dream. A man appeared to him in a cloak of 
scarlet, wearing a gold bracelet and a sword. He announced himself as 
Olaf the Stout (Digri), and told the dreamer to break open the howe at 
Geirstadir. He must seize the cloak, bracelet and sword of the dead 
man, cut off his head, and take his belt and knife. 

Hrani must afterwards go to Upplond, where he would find Asta, the 
wife of a regional king, stricken with the pangs of childbirth; he wa.s to 
place the dead man’s belt around her, and he himself must name the 
child. When Asta gave birth, her child was called Olaf and nicknamed 
the Stout, and was later Olaf the Saint. 12 

Olaf the Elf appears once more in the life of his namesake, St Olaf, 
and the story is of such interest that it may be translated : 

It is told that once when King Olaf (the Saint) was riding with his body- 
guard (bird) past the howe of Olaf the Elf of Geirstadir, one of his followers 
(hirdmadr), who is not named, questioned him: ‘tell me, Lord, were you 
buried here ?’ The King answered : ‘never did my soul have two bodies, and 
it never will have, neither now nor on the day of resurrection, and if I say 
anything else, then the common faith is not truly implanted in me.’ Then the 
courtier said : ‘people have said that when you came to this place before you 
exclaimed ; “here we were, and here we go.” ’ The King answered : I never 
said that and I never will.’ The King was deeply disturbed at heart; he 
pricked his horse and sped from the place as fast as he could. It was easy to 
see that King 6laf wished to uproot and blot out this heretical superstition. 13 

It can be shown that some of these stories of Olaf the Elf and his 
namesake were written not later than 1200, and are therefore among 
the older stories of St Olaf put on parchment. Although apocryphal, 
they show that the belief in the reincarnation of kings was not far from 
the minds of Icelanders and Norwegians, even if they were Christian. 



A story like the one last quoted can hardly be a medieval, Christian in- 
vention. We can safely say that some people thought that St Olaf was 
his older namesake reborn, but we cannot say whether he was seen as 
an incarnate god, or only the descendant of a god. 

Rimbert, in his Life of St Anskar (Ch. XXVI) also gave a story 
showing how a king might be raised to godhead after death. When 
Anskar was on his second mission to Birka (Sweden), about the middle 
of the ninth century, the Swedes heard of his approach. One of them 
claimed to have been at a meeting of the gods of the land. They ob- 
jected to the introduction of an alien god. But if the Swedes wished to 
have more gods, they were ready to accept the lately defunct King 
Eirik as a full member of their college. The Swedes raised a temple in 
honour of their late king and, when Anskar arrived, the sacrifice had 

Not only kings, but also chieftains might be revered as gods after 
death. It is said of Grim Kamban, settler of the Faroe Islands, that 
sacrifice was brought to him when he was dead because of his popu- 
larity. 14 




Ermanaric, Sigurd and the Burgundians — Starkad — Harald Wartooth — Hadding 

It was seen in earlier chapters that Freyr, Njord, and other gods were 
believed to have ruled as earthly kings. Conversely, early chieftains, 
such as Olaf the Elf in Norway and Grim Kamban in the Faroe Islands, 
were raised to the rank of gods after death. This implies that the line 
which divided gods from chieftains was less clearly defined than it 
afterwards came to be. 

A great part of the early Norse literature is heroic. It records incidents 
from the lives of heroes who were supposed to have lived in various 
lands and at various ages, although in every case before the settlement 
of Iceland in the ninth century. These legends are preserved in their 
purest, but not their most complete form, in the Eddaic poems. Many 
of them were related at greater length by the Danish historian, Saxo, 
early in the thirteenth century. They were also told in Heroic Sagas, 
mostly written in Iceland in the late thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. 

The problems of heroic legend cannot be discussed in a book of this 
kind, but they have formed the subject of many weighty volumes. 1 For 
the present we must be content to consider only a few heroes in their 
relation to myth and religious belief. 

As is well known, some of the more famous of the heroic legends arc 
not of Scandinavian, but of continental German origin. Nevertheless, 
most of these legends are preserved best in Norse literature. Some are 
based partly on events in history, although history has been so distorted 
that the Norse sources are without value for the historian. 

Ermanaric, Sigurd and the Burgundians 

The oldest dateable event mentioned in the Norse heroic literature is 
the death of Ermanaric, Emperor of the Goths, in south-eastern Europe 
in the year ad 375. Comparatively little is known about Ermanaric in 
history, but the development of the legend about him can be followed 
in some detail. 2 

According to a contemporary historian, Ammianus Marcellinus, the 
empire of Ermanaric was invaded by the Huns and, being so distressed 
at its plight, he committed suicide. Nothing more is heard of Ermanaric 
until the middle of the sixth century, when the Gothic historian, Jor- 
danes, wrote of him. By that time the story had changed, and legend 
had been at work, and the circumstances of Ermanaric’s end were 

When the Huns invaded his empire, the Rosomoni, a subject tribe, 
deserted him. To punish them, Ermanaric seized Sunilda, the wife of 
one of their chieftains, and had her torn to pieces by wild horses. In 
revenge, two brothers of the slaughtered woman, Ammius and Sarus, 
attacked Ermanaric. They wounded him severely, but he lingered on 
for a time. 

It may be supposed that the fate of Ermanaric had already become 
the subject of heroic lay, and it was upon this that Jordanes based his 
story. It was far removed from fact, and elements which had nothing 
to do with history had been introduced. 

At a comparatively early period, lays and legends of Ermanaric were 
brought to Scandinavia, and some details of the story were changed, 
although its outline remained. One of the oldest records of it in Scandi- 
navia is the Ragnarsdrapa 3 of the scald Bragi (see Gh. I, Old Norse 
Poetry) . By this time, the legend of Ermanaric ( Jormunrekk) had been 
combined with another, for the avenging brothers, now called HamSir 
and Sorli, are said to be descendants of the Burgundian Gjuki (Gibica), 
although in history, Gjuki must have lived later than Ermanaric. 

Another, and more dramatic change had taken place. The murdered 
woman was no longer the wife of Jormunrekk’s enemy, but she was his 
own wife. Her name had also been changed and made more meaningful. 
She was no longer called Sunilda, but Svanhild (Swan-hild), or in the 
poetic language of Bragi Foglhildr (Bird-hild). 

The story of Ermanaric is told in closer detail in the poems of the 
i Edda, GudrunarhvQt and Hamdismdl and again by Snorri in his Edda and 

in the Vglsunga Saga of the late thirteenth century. In these sources the 
legend is inextricably bound up, not only with that of the Burgundians, 
but also with the legend of Sigurd . 

Like the legend of Ermanaric, that of the Burgundians has some basis 
in history. In history, their king, Gundicarius, son of Gibica, was killed 
in the year 437 with his whole tribe by Hunnish troops acting in Roman 
interests. 4 Gundicarius lives in Norse legend as Gunnar, son of Gjuki, 
but the story of his death has departed from history. The war between 
his tribe and the Huns has become a family quarrel, and Gunnar’s an- 
tagonist is Atli (Attila), said to be married to Gunnar’s sister, Gudrfin. 


I have passed quickly over the legends of Ermanaric and the Bur- 
gundians. While based partly on history, they show how legend, and 
the poets who transmitted it, distorted history and introduced other 
elements. Without the help of chroniclers, we could not know that 
there was any history in these legends. 

There is nothing mythical in the Norse legends of Ermanaric and 
the Burgundians as they have so far been told, but they were combined 
with a third legend, that of Sigurd (Sigfrid), most glorious of Germanic 

We cannot say when the legend of the Burgundians was combined 
with that of Sigurd. Bragi, when he speaks of Svanhild as wife of J 5 r- 
munrekk (Ermanaric), seems to imply that she was related to the Bur- 
gundians, and perhaps she had already been made daughter of Gudrun 
and Sigurd. In a great part of the Norse poetry, as in the Vglsunga Saga, 
the Pidreks Saga and the German Nibelungenlied , the legends of Sigurd 
and the Burgundians are bound up with each other. It is, therefore, 
plain that they were first combined in Germany, and notin Scandinavia. 

But there is some Norse poetry in which the legends are nearly sepa- 
rate. In the Atlakvida, Sigurd is never named, and allusion to his legend 
is indistinct. 

The earlier parts of the legend of Sigurd, the tales of his youth, have 
nothing to do with the Burgundian legend. These tales are told in co- 
herent form in the Vglsunga Saga and partly by Snorri. 6 In the Poetic 
Edda the text is defective and the stories are told in verses of various 
poetic form and plainly of devious origin. 

In one section of the Edda , the so-called Sigrdrifum&l (Words of Sigr- 
drifa), it is told, partly in verse and partly in prose, how Sigurd rode 
up the mountain Hindarfjall (Hind-mountain), and awakened the 
valkyrie, Sigrdrifa (Victory-giver), surrounded by a wall of glowing 
shields. The valkyrie had been put to sleep by Odinn, evidently with a 
‘sleep-thorn’, because she had awarded victory to the wrong man. After 
she awoke, the valkyrie spoke many words of occult wisdom and she 
and Sigurd, if the Vglsunga Saga 6 is to be trusted, were solemnly be- 

This legend leaves no room for the story, told in many other sources, 
of Sigurd’s subsequent betrothal to Brynhild and his marriage with the 
Burgundian Gudrun. Ever since the Middle Ages poets and commen- 
tators have sought ways of explaining the hero’s apparent faithlessness. 7 
These explanations have led to ever-greater confusion, and it is easier 
to believe that there were two stories of Sigurd. In the one, he was in 
the mythical world of Odinn and his valkyries, and in the other he 
lived among earthly heroes. 



It is not easy to say which is the older of these legends, i.e. whether an 
earthly hero was raised to the divine world, or whether a divine figure 
became an earthly hero. 

Some of the heroes named in this chapter have been identified in 
history. It would be interesting to know whether Sigurd can also be 
identified. His name, which appears regularly in O.N. as Sigurd 
(Sigurdr), is found in continental sources as Sigfrid. He has frequently 
been identified with the Frankish king, Sigeberht II (murdered 575), 
whose wife was Brunehilda, a Visigoth from Spain (died 613). 

Since the legend of Sigurd is set, partly at least, in Frankish territory, 
and seems largely to have developed in that neighbourhood, we may 
well suppose that Sigeberht and his wife, with her unusual name, con- 
tributed their names, or parts of them, to the legend, but it is doubtful 
whether they contributed anything more. 

There is an older figure in history who has also been claimed as the 
prototype of Sigurd. This is the Cheruscan, Arminius, who may well 
have helped to form the legendary figure. 8 Arminius was born in the 
year 16 bc ; he defeated the Romans under Varus in ad 9, and was mur- 
dered by his own kinsmen in ad 21. Nearly a century afterwards, as 
Tacitus wrote, songs or lays about Arminius were still being sung. 

It has often been argued that Arminius was not the real name of this 
chieftain, but was a nickname used by Romans, whether, as formerly 
supposed, it represents Herrmann (Warrior) or not. 9 In fact the father 
of Arminius was called Segimerus (O.N. Sigmarr ) , and names of which the 
first element was Segi (O.N. Sig-) predominated in his clan. O. Hofier 10 
has lately drawn attention to some remarkable points of correspondence 
between the legendary Sigurd and Arminius. Sigurd is, strangely 
enough, compared with the hart ; he towered above the sons of Gjuki as 
the long-legged hart above other beasts ( Gudrunarkvida II, 2) . As Romu- 
lus and Remus were fostered by a wolf, so the infant Sigurd was fed by 
a hind ( Pidreks Saga CCLXVII). The mountain on which Sigurd found 
the sleeping valkyrie was Hindarfjall (Hind-mountain), and he appeared 
in a dream as a hart. One of the hero’s supposed descendants was called 
Sigurd Hjgrtr (Hart), and the hero’s tragic death in the forest was like 
that of a hunted stag. Another hero, Helgi Hundingsbani, was com- 
pared with the djrkdlfr (young hart or elk), and the occurrence of the 
elements hjgrtr and elgr in personal and nicknames suggests that beasts 
of this kind were sacred, no less than the boar, horse, wolf and raven. 

A particular reason to associate Arminius with the hart may be 
found in the name of his tribe, Cherusci. This has been explained in 
various ways, but it is now generally associated with Germanic herut and 
O.N. hjgrtr (hart). 11 



But, even if the Cheruscan Arminius and the Frankish Sigeberht were 
combined in the legend of Sigurd, history leaves much to be explained 
History does not provide the motive of the sleeping valkyrie awakened 
by the dauntless hero. The greatest moment in Sigurd’s life was when 
he slew the dragon, Fafnir. It would be difficult to accept the sugges- 
tion that this reflects a victory over Roman legions fighting under a 
dragon banner. 12 Like the waking of the valkyrie, it is more readily 
explained as a myth. Dragons in myth are symbols of chaos and evil, 
and it is commonly gods who contend with them, and especially those 
gods who are most friendly to man, and often young, e.g. Thor, Herakles, 

Marduk, Indra. . , . 

In the Norse sources, the slaughter of the dragon is placed m a mythi- 
cal setting, and the gold which the hero seized from him was of mythical 
origin. The gods had taken it from a dwarf and surrendered it to 
Hreidmar, father of the dragon. 13 According to one source, Odinn 
showed Sigurd how to kill the dragon without danger to himself. 
The hero was in quest, not only of the dragon’s gold, but also of his 
wisdom, which he wrung from him as he lay dying. After he had 
stabbed Fafnir, Sigurd asked him questions about the mythical world : 
who are the norns (fates), who attend the birth of men; what is the 
name of the island on which gods and demons will fight their last 
battle? 15 As soon as Sigurd had tasted the blood of the dragon’s heart, 

he understood the speech of birds. 16 

Many other episodes in Sigurd’s career suggest that he has as much 
to do with the mythical as he has to do with our world. According to 
the Pidreks Saga (GGLXIX), he was a foundling, drifting m a glass 
vessel over the sea and, as already mentioned, he was fed by a hind. 
When the wounded dragon first asked Sigurd his name and origin, he 
said that his name was ‘the splendid beast’ (, gQjukt dyr ) ; 17 he had neither 
father nor mother, and had gone his way alone. Later the hero said that 
his father was Sigmund, as is told in other sources. 

Sigurd’s genealogy, traced in detail only in the Vqlsunga Saga / has 
more to do with myth than with legend ; he is said to descend directly 
from Odinn. His great-grandmother grew pregnant after eating an 
apple sent by Odinn. Her son was Volsung, after whom the clan was 
named. Volsung was the father of Sigmund, father of Smfjotli and 

It could be argued that the introductory chapters of the Vqlsunga 
Saga, in which these stories are told, are a late invention, since it cannot 
be shown that they are based on poetry, as much of the saga is. But 
Odinn appears as the guardian, even as the possessor of the V olsung 
clan, also in later parts of the story, whose antiquity there is less reason 



to doubt. It was Odinn who broke Sigmund’s sword in his last battle, 
for he must fight only so long as Odinn wished. 19 It was a raven, Odinn’s 
bird, which brought a leaf to heal the wounds of Sinfjotli. 20 It must also 
have been Odinn who received the dead body of Sinfjotli, placed it in 
a boat and vanished. 21 

A well-known passage in Beowulf (875 ff) contains an interesting 
allusion to the Volsung legend, which agrees, in some ways, closely 
with the Vqlsunga Saga. In Beowulf Sigemund, the son of Waels, and his 
nephew, Fitela, were said to live by deeds of daring and violence, as 
Sigmund and Sinfjotli did, sometimes in the shape of wolves, in the 
Vqlsunga Saga (VIII). According to Norse tradition, Sinfjotli (Fitela) 
was not only the nephew of Sigmund ; he was also his son, begotten by 
an incestuous union with Signy, sister of Sigmund. In this we may sup- 
pose that the Norse tradition is the more complete, and that the incest 
did not interest the English poet. Beowulf differs also from the Norse 
tradition in making Sigemund slay the dragon and seize the hoard. 22 
As H. M. Chadwick pointed out, 23 the English tradition probably 
derived from Denmark or Jutland. But the differences between this 
and the tradition known from the Icelandic sources are not funda- 
mental. In Beowulf it was Sigemund (Sigmund) who killed the dragon; 
in the Norse sources it was Sigurd, said to be son of Sigmund (Sige- 
mund). But in German, the hero is called Sigfrid. Whether or not this 
hero is related to the historical Sigeberht, the second element of his 
name is not fixed. 24 If he was known from one source as Sigmund and 
from another as Sigurd, it would not be surprising that two heroes 
should be made of him, and that they should be father and son. The 
unchanging element in the dragon- slayer’s name is Sig- (victory). It is 
remarkable how often this occurs as an element in poetic names for 
Odinn; the god is Sigdir, Siggautr , Sigtryggr , Sig- Tyr and even Sigmundr . 25 

A minor difference between Beowulf and the Norse sources is that in 
Beowulf Sigemund is not only called W eelsing ( Vqlsungr ) , but is expressly 
said to be son of Wads ( Weelses eqfera ) . In the Norse sources Sigmund is 
son of Volsung. In this priority must be given to the English source, for 
while Wadsing means ‘son of Wads’, Volsung must originally have 
meant ‘son of Volsi’. Volsi was the name given to a horse’s penis which 
was worshipped as a god (see Ch. XIII), whether or not it may, at one 
time, have been used as a name for Odinn. 

If the dragon-slayer had such close affinities with myth as is here 
suggested, it is difficult to see how he came to be associated with the 
Burgundians, who have some basis in history. 

The Burgundians were commonly called Jfiflungar. It has been said 
that this name derives from the place, Nivelles (Nyvel), in Flanders, but 




it is more likely to be related to the German Jfebel (fog, mist), O.H.G. 
nebul, nebil , O.Sax. nebal (mist, darkness), and to other words which 
have suchlike meaning . 26 

The Niflungar are said in Norse literature to be ‘black as ravens’ 

(. hrafnbldir ) ; the sons of Gudrun, Sorli, Hamdir, Erp, all had raven- 
black hair, just like Gunnar, Hogni and the other Niflungar . 27 

This may lead to the suspicion, as it has led many before, that the 
Niflungar, who slew Sigurd, were demons of darkness. In this case, 
they have something in common with the blind Hod, who struck down 
the shining god, Baldr. Baldr could be killed by one weapon alone; 
Sigurd, as the German sources say, could not be wounded except on 
one spot of his body, which the dragon’s blood had not reached. In 
each case, it was a woman, mother or wife, who innocently gave the 
secret away, and the god, or hero, fell at the hand of his brother, 
brother-in-law or foster-brother. 

This may partly explain why the assailants of Sigurd were called 
Niflungar; it does not explain why the Niflungar were identified with 
the semi-historical Burgundians. 

The explanation given by A. Heusler 28 may be near the truth, and 
differs but slightly from the one offered here. Sigurd conquered not 
one, but two hoards of treasure. He took the hoard of the dragon, Faf- 
nir, and, according to German sources , 29 he also took the hoard of the 
Nibelung brothers, Nibelunc and Schilbunc, who were quarrelling over 
it. This hoard came from underground, and its keeper was Albrich, an 
elfish figure. j 

We could suppose that there was a story in which Sigurd had seized 
a hoard of gold from the mythical dark-elves ( dekkdlfar ), the master- 
craftsmen. If so, a curse was on it, as it was on other treasures seized 
from elves or dwarfs , 30 and in the end, the elves must get their revenge. 
But if, in legend or history, the Burgundians were owners of a treasure- 
hoard, and if this were the cause of their downfall, as it was said to be, 
then their treasure could well be identified with Sigurd’s hoard, which 
included treasure taken from the dark elves. If the Burgundians were 
in possession of Sigurd’s hoard, they must have killed him to get it, and 
they could thus fill the place of the avenging dark elves, or Niflungar. 

A central place is taken by Hogni (Hagen). Since his name does not 
alliterate with theirs, he cannot, originally, have been a brother of the 
Burgundians, Gunnar, Guttorm, Gudrun, although he was said to be 
by Norse poets. In Norse sources it was not Hogni who struck down 
Sigurd; according to the Vqlsunga Saga (XXXII), he tried to dissuade 
his brothers from this dastardly act. But in German sources, and 
especially in the Pidreks Saga, Hogni is shown in another light ; he is not 


the full brother of the Burgundians, but their half-brother. An elf had 
slept with the Queen, their mother, when she was drunk. Hogni looked 
more like a troll than a man and, in one passage, he was said to be pale 
as bast and grey as ash ; in another, he was dusky all over, with black 
hair and a black beard and cruel looking. In the Pidreks Saga 
(CCIXC), as in the Nibelungenlied (Av. XVI), it was Hogni who 
Treacherously struck Sigurd between the shoulder-blades. 

The legend could develop in this way. Sigurd had seized the accursed 
treasure from the dark elves, the Niflungar. Hogni was one of them and 
therefore, in revenge, he killed Sigurd. The Burgundians also held an 
accursed hoard, which led to their death; they must, therefore, have 
taken it from Sigurd. In this case, they must have killed Sigurd, and so 
Hogni must be among them, even their brother. If this were so, the 
Burgundians must be Niflungar, and black as the elves. 

It has often been noticed that some of the Norse legends have affinities 
with Celtic ones, which are too close to be explained by chance or by 
common Indo-European inheritance. No Norse hero resembles the 
Celtic ones as closely as does Sigurd, and the Celtic legends may help 
us to understand him. 

It will be recalled that, after he had killed the dragon, Sigurd roasted 
the heart, and touched it with his finger to see whether it was fully 
cooked. Scalding his finger, the hero put it in his mouth, and at once he 
understood the speech of the birds . 31 

There are several stories which tell how the Irish hero, Finn mac 
Cumhaill gained his unsurpassed wisdom. According to some, it was by 
drinking water from a magic or fairy well. But according to another, 
Finn was roasting the salmon of wisdom and, scalding his thumb, he 
put it in his mouth and thus acquired wisdom. 

These stories of the origin of Finn’s wisdom have been carefully sifted 
by T. F. O’Rahilly . 32 Some of the versions recorded in Ireland and 
Scotland in recent times resemble the story of Sigurd more closely than 
the medieval one in Macgnimartha Firing and in some things are perhaps 
closer to the original. Since dragons, or serpents, are not found in Ire- 
land, a story-teller would naturally exclude them from an Irish setting, 
and introduce the salmon instead. When Finn placed the scalded 
thumb in his mouth, he knew that the owner of the salmon was his 
enemy, and therefore he killed him, just as Sigurd killed Reginn, the 
dragon’s brother, after he had learnt from the birds of his treachery. 

O’Rahilly, G. Murphy and other Celtic specialists agree that Finn 
was originally a god. If so, he was transformed into an earthly hero by 
Christian story-tellers. 

The story of Sigurd has affinities with Celtic legends other than that 



of Finn. According to the Pidreks Saga (CGLXXI) and to the Nibelungen- 
lied (Av. Ill), Sigurd bathed, or smeared himself in the blood of the 
dragon, and his skin became as hard as horn, except on one spot be- 
tween the shoulder-blades, which the blood had not reached. It was on 
that spot alone that he could be wounded, and it was Sigurd s wife who 
innocently betrayed the secret to his murderer. 34 It is told of more than 
one Irish hero that he had a skin of horn. One of them, Conganchnes 
(Horny-skin), was vulnerable only on the soles of his feet, and the secret 
was betrayed by his wife. 85 

In the Vqisunga Saga (XV), and more briefly in the prose of the 
Reginsmal (str. 14) the story is told of how the smith. Reginn forged the 
sword Gramr for Sigurd. This was not an ordinary sword, for it was 
made from the fragments of an older one, which Sigurd’s father had 
received from Odinn. To test its keenness, Sigurd placed it in the 
Rhine, and a flock of wool drifting downstream was cut in two. 

This story may remind us of the one in which Wayland the Smith 
tested the sword Mfmung, cutting a stout piece of cloth drifting down- 
stream. 36 Irish legend contains several stories of this kind ; heroes have 
weapons, stout, but sharp enough to cut a hair as it drifts down the 
stream. 37 

To these parallels may be added the tradition that the mother of 
Oism, son of Finn, was a deer. 38 This may remind us of the story told in 
the Pidreks Saga (CCLXVII) that Sigurd was fostered by a doe. He was 
once compared with a hart and was symbolized by a hart in a dream. 39 

It is not easy to explain the relationship between Sigurd and the Irish 
figures. While some have believed that the Irish legends were influenced 
by Norse ones, 40 many more have held that the Norsemen and Ger- 
mans borrowed from the Irish. 41 It may not be necessary to assume 
borrowing on either side, especially since some of the parallels quoted 
are found only in Norse versions of the story of Sigurd, and others only 
in German. The story of Sigurd centres on the Rhine and the land of 
the Franks ; in fact, it seems to belong to western areas of mixed Gelto- 
Germanic culture and to have flourished near the territories of the 
Belgas. 42 This may imply that a legend or myth comparable with that of 
Sigurd had been formed already by the first century bc, when the 
Belgte invaded Britain. In other words, the hero Sigurd may owe some- 
thing to Arminius, and something to Sigeberht, but fundamentally he 
is not an historical figure, and is older than either of these. In this case, 
he is a mythical, more than a legendary hero. Like the gods, Thor and 
Indra he fights a dragon and gains wisdom from him, as Finn gains it 
from the salmon. Like Baldr, the son of Odinn, Sigurd suffers an un- 
expected death at the hands of a relative. Baldr’s assailant was blind ; 



Sigurd’s assailants were black as ravens. The Volsungs were under 
Odinn’s protection, and were said to descend from that god. 

In short, the evidence at our disposal suggests that Sigurd was 
originally a god, or at least a demi-god. If so, he may have been con- 
ceived at one time as the divine ancestor of the Gherusci. If the name 
Cherusci is correctly related to *herut (hart), then the sacred beast of 
their divine ancestor must have been the hart, and the hart must be one 
of the forms which he took. Arminius, as leader of the Gherusci, could 
be regarded as the divine ancestor reborn, and his career might well 
contribute something to the figure of myth and legend, although that 
figure was fundamentally older than he was. 


One of the strangest figures in Norse legend is Starkad, of whom a little 
was said in Ch. II above. Many stories are told of him, and they take 
very different forms, although they have a certain consistency. 

Starkad is described most fully by Saxo in the Gesta Danorum, written 
early in the thirteenth century, and again in the Icelandic Gautreks 
Saga. There are also allusions to him in many other sources of various 

The critical literature about Starkad is so great that I can refer only 
to a small part of it in this book ; scholars are far from agreement about 
his significance in legend or myth, and I must content myself with 
some general observations. 

Many have seen Starkad as a semi-mythical figure, but while some 
have regarded him as an Odinn-hero, others have been no less firmly 
convinced of his relationship with Thor. 1 

According to the Gautreks Saga (III), 2 Starkad descended from giants ; 
his grandfather was another Starkad, who had the nickname Aludrengr 
(or Aladrengr) , and was an exceedingly wise giant {hundviss jqtunri), 
according to some sources with eight arms. This Starkad had raped 
Alfhild, the daughter of a king in Norway, and the King had invoked 
Thor, the eternal enemy of giants. The god responded, killed the giant 
and rescued the King’s daughter. She was now pregnant and bore a son 
called Siorvirkr (the man of great deeds), who, in his turn, was father of 
our Starkad. 

Many scholars have distinguished two original Starkads, who came 
to be confused in later tradition. The one was the hero, and the other, 
the giant {Aludrengr), 'was a troll or water-demon. He was said, in one 
source, to live at Alufossar (or Alupollar) which is equated with Ule- 
foss in Telemark. 3 This explanation of the giant-like nature of the hero 
has led only to greater confusion. It is more reasonable to suppose that 




the older Starkad had no real ‘existence’ in legend, and was created 
only to explain some of the peculiar characteristics of the hero. 4 

According to Saxo (vi, 182), the hero Starkad was said by some to be 
of giant origin ; he came from a land east of Sweden, where the world of 
giants is sometimes located. Like his giant grandfather in the Gautreks 
Saga, Starkad was born with an extraordinary number of arms or 
hands. The god Thor had tom off these extra hands, so that he had but 
two left, and his body was then less uncomely. 

This last motive is puzzling, but the six, or eight, hands seem to be of 
some antiquity in the story. The Gautreks Saga contains a poem, per- 
haps of the twelfth century, ascribed to the hero. In lines which are not 
altogether clear, 5 Starkad seems to say that scoffing berserks, who said 
he was a giant reborn, claimed to see on his body the marks of eight 
arms which Thor (Hlorridi) had torn from the body of his grandfather. 

Both from Danish and Icelandic sources we learn that it was chiefly 
Odinn who decreed the course of Starkad’s life. According to Saxo 
(vi, 184), Odinn endowed him with three spans of human life, so that 
he 5 should commit three execrable crimes. Odinn also gave Starkad 
bravery, enormous size and the gift of poetry. One of Starkad s dastardly 
crimes was to kill his master, the Norwegian King Vfkar, because this 
was Odinn’s wish. This story, as it is told in the Gautreks Saga was sum- 
marized in Ch. II above. Saxo’s version differs in some details. Again 
the sacrifice of the King was to be symbolic, and Starkad w as to hang 
him in a noose of twigs. According to one version, which Saxo rejects, 
the twigs grew tough as iron when placed around the Kings neck, 
according to another, which Saxo accepts, the twigs were knotted in 
such a way that the King was strangled and, while he was still strug- 
gling, Starkad cut out his breath with his sword ( ferro ) . 

The differences between Saxo’s version of the slaughter of Vfkar and 
that given in the Gautreks Saga are not deep. In both the dastardly crime 
is committed for Odinn, and can be seen only as a sacrifice of the King. 

Since Starkad commits this crime on Odinn’s behalf, he must stand 
in some relation with Odinn. But if he is an Odinn-hero, he differs 
from others, such as Sigurd, Harald Wartooth and, if we may count 
him, Helgi Hundingsbani. 

Even after the extra arms had been torn off, Starkad was. never 
comely, as these heroes were said to be. As he was made to say himself: 

Hkeja rekkar, 
er mik sea, 
ljdtan skolt, 
langa trjonu, 
har uflgratt, 

Warriors laugh 
to look on me, 
ugly pated 
and long snouted, 
with wolf-grey hair 

hangar tjalgur, and drooping paws, 

hrjufan hals, a crinkled neck 

hud jotrada. and wrinkled skin.® 

Starkad is commonly presented as grey-haired and misshapen, and 
very old; in other words, he was more like Odinn himself than the 
other heroes were. 

We may consider Starkad’s relations with Odinn more closely. As 
already mentioned, Danish and Icelandic authors relate that Starkad 
received, not only three spans of life, but also the gift of poetry from 
Odinn. The Gautreks Saga (VII) is more precise in enumerating Odinn’s 
gifts. Starkad would possess the finest weapons and clothes, and great 
quantities of treasure. He would win victory in every battle, and be held 
in highest esteem by all the noblest men. 

From Saxo’s pages (vi, 184), it seems that it was Odinn who decreed 
that Starkad should commit three dastardly crimes, but the Gautreks 
Saga makes this part of a curse laid on him by Thor. 

We read clearly only of two of Starkad’s crimes. The first of them, 
the slaughter of Vfkar was plainly an Odinn-sacrifice. The last ( sldasta 
oskapaverk ) 7 was hardly less famous, although its motives are rather less 
clear. It is mentioned in many Icelandic sources, 8 and described most 
fully by Saxo (viii, 265 ff). 

Starkad’s life was drawing to its close, and a certain Olo, known in 
Icelandic sources as Ali inn froekni (also Armodr) , was ruling in Denmark. 
He was so harsh and unjust that nobles revolted. Not trusting their own 
ability they bribed Starkad to cariy out their design. In exchange for a, 
large sum of gold, he agreed to stab the unarmed King in his bath. At 
first he drew back before Olo’s piercing eyes, but when the King’s head 
was covered, he cut him in the throat. 9 

When the deed was done, Starkad was overcome with remorse as, in 
the Gautreks Saga, he had been after he killed Vfkar. 

He was now decrepit and nearly blind, walking with two sticks. He 
longed for death, but it must not be a ‘straw-death’; he must die by the 
sword. He hung his gold around his neck, so that it might tempt an 
assassin. He slew Lenno (Hlenni), one of those who had bribed him to 
commit his crime. When he met Hatherus, the son of Lenno, he taunted 
him for not avenging his father, as though he were a shepherd or a 

Hatherus had less interest in vengeance than he had in Starkad’s 
gold, which the hero handed to him, together with his sword. Hatherus 
now did the work of executioner, severing the old man’s head, which 
bit the ground as it fell. The Icelandic Helga kvida Huningsbana II 




(str. 27) goes back to a very different version of Starkad’s death, which 
yet has something in common with that of Saxo. According to the 
Helga kvida, Starkad fell in battle against the Danish hero Helgi, but his 
body went on fighting after the head was cut off: 

. . . fiann s& ek gylfa 
er bardisk bolr, 
var a brott hgfud. 

That was the prince 
I saw most defiant ; 
his body fought on 
when the head was off. 

After this brief consideration of Starkad’s career and of his relations 
with Odinn, we should consider his relations with Thor. According to 
the Gautreks Saga (VII), it was Thor who counter-balanced every bless- 
ing which Odinn conferred upon the hero with a curse. It was Thor who 
decreed that he should commit three dastardly crimes, and when Odinn 
laid down that Starkad should have the best of weapons and clothes, 
Thor said that he would ever be a landless man. He would possess un- 
countable riches, but he would always think that he had not enough. 
He would win victory in every battle, but suffer a severe wound in each. 
He would have the gift of poetry, but never remember a line of his 
verse. Although he would win the favour of chieftains, he would be 
loathed by all the common people and, most grievous of all, he would 

have neither son nor daughter. 

Starkad is presented in the Gautreks Saga as the favourite of Odinn and 
the enemy of Thor. The reasons are made plain enough. His paternal 
grandmother (i.e. Alfhild) had taken a cunning giant (i.e. Starkad Alu- 
dreng) as the father of her son, instead of Thor himself. In other words, 
the hero was of giant origin, and that would be sufficient to account for 
Thor’s enmity. 

Nevertheless, some have seen Starkad rather as a Thoi- than as an 
Odinn-hero. This opinion is based partly upon Saxo s peculiar story, 
telling how Thor tore off the hero’s extra arms, thus improving his 
appearance. It was noticed above that a story of this kind was also 
known to the author of the Gautreks Saga, but we may wonder, in tearing 
off these arms, whether Thor was really conferring so great a favour on 
the hero or the giant. Starkad Aludreng had eight arms, but they were 
no impediment, for he won a duel wielding four swords at once. 10 

There are other reasons to believe that Thor was the enemy of Star- 
kad. In an earlier chapter I quoted the fragment of a hymn in praise of 
Thdr. 11 This contained a list of giants whom Thor had overcome, and 
one of the lines read : 

Steypdir Starkedi You knocked down Starkad 12 



The poet does not tell how Thdr overcame the giant Starkad, but 
this is told in the Rerum Danicarum Fragmenta of Arngfmur Jonsson 
(VIII), who undoubtedly follows an ancient source. 13 After tearing off 
the giant’s arms, Thor came upon him alone in a boat in the Gulf of 
Finland, and drowned him. 

If Starkad was of giant origin, we may wonder why he is presented as 
the favourite of Odinn, for giants were said to be enemies of all the gods. 
Thdr, we are told, was the son of Odinn and Frigg, but Odinn was less 
unfriendly to the giants and more closely related to them than Thdr 
was. Not only did he entertain a giant in Asgard, 11 and drink giants’ 
mead in Jptunheimar, 15 but, according to Snorri, 16 Odinn’s mother was 
Bestla, daughter of the giant Bglftom (Evil Thorn) , and this story was not 
far from the mind of the author of str. 140 of the Havamdl. 

It was laid down that Starkad must commit three wicked crimes in 
the span of three mortal lives. The first crime was the slaughter of his 
master Vikar, and the third the slaughter of the unarmed Olo, or All 
the Bold. The medieval authors do not say which was the second crime. 

G. Dumezil, 17 with his usual brilliance, claims to find it. Starkad, in 
the service of a Swedish prince, Regnaldus, was engaged in battle 
against the Danes. When Regnaldus fell, the whole of his army, in- 
cluding Starkad, turned and fled. 18 It may be added that this was not 
the only occasion on which Starkad fled from a battlefield. According 
to the koma-Gests Pdttr (Ch. VII), he fled before Sigurd and the sons of 

Neither of these stories of Starkad’s flight from batde is described as a 
crime. They may even bring the hero closer to Odinn himself. Odinn is 
often present on the battlefield, but he will not fight until the Ragnarok ; 
he likes to see courage in others but, unlike Thor, he does not display it 

J. de Vries 19 has offered a better acceptable suggestion about Star- 
kad’s third, or rather second crime. 

He was in the service of King Frodi IV of Denmark. When Frodi was 
treacherously killed by the German, Sverting, his son Ingjald (Ingellus) 
succeeded. Ingjald was degenerate and lived in luxury, attended by 
German cooks. He married the daughter of Sverting and entertained 
Sverting’s sons at his own court. It was then that Starkad returned 
from Sweden, an old man, dressed as a beggar. 

For Saxo, Starkad was the apotheosis of Danish valour, despising 
German luxury and effeminacy. He insulted the Queen and then, in 
verses reproduced by Saxo in pompous Latin, he urged Ingjald to take 
vengeance for his father. The young King, stirred by the old warrior’s 
taunts, unsheathed his sword and cut down his guests and brothers-in-law. 



Neither Starkad’s nor Ingj aid’s act is presented as a crime. In Saxo’s 
eyes it was perhaps a virtue because the victims were Germans. But 
yet, it was as much a breach of the rules of hospitality as it was when 
Atli killed his brothers-in-law and guests, Gunnar and H 5 gni. 

The part played by Starkad^ in this story is remarkably like that 
played by Odinn in others. As Odinn boasts himself in the Harbardsljod 
(str. 24) : 

atta ek jpfrum, I incited princes, 

en aldrei ssettak. and never made peace. 

It is said of Odinn that he sows dissension between kinsmen, as he did 
between Harald War tooth and Ring (Saxo, vii, 255), or as it is ex- 
pressed in the Helga kvida Hundingsbana II (str. 34) : 

Einn veldr Odinn 
qIIu bglvi, 

fiviat med sifjungum 
sakrunar bar. 

Odinn alone 
promotes all evil ; 
he stirred up enmity 
between the kinsmen. 

Few heroic legends can be traced further back than that of Starkad 
and Ingjald. Allusions to it were made already in Beowulf (2024 ff), in a 
way which shows that it was well known to the English audience of the 
eighth century. In this version, the place which Saxo gives to the Danes 
is taken by their enemies the Headobards ; while the place of the Ger- 
mans is taken by Danes. In order to allay a feud between the two 
peoples, a Danish princess was betrothed to the Headobard, Ingeld, 
whose father Froda had been killed by Danes. When the princess came 
with her Danish escort to the Headobard court, an old warrior (ascwiga) 
of the Headobards was enraged to see the treasures of his late master 
borne by a Danish prince. He stirred the heart of the young Ingeld; 
Danish blood was shed and the feud broke out again. 

The old warrior is not named in the Beowulf ; he plays the part of 
Starkad, but it cannot be told whether he already bore that name. It 
was said of him : him bid grim sefa (2043), almost as it was said of Starkad, 
in a much later Icelandic source, that he was grimmudgastr , 20 

It could be supposed that the story told in Beowulf had some basis in 
the history of the Danes and Headobards of the fifth century or the 
sixth. From the present point of view, this is of little significance. Even 
if the eald ascwiga was himself an historical figure, he was well disposed 
to develop into an Odinn-hero, and to adopt the qualities of Odinn 

himself. . 

There are further reasons to associate Starkad with the cult of Odinn^ 


although they may not all be strong. The name Starkadr (Stqrkudr) has 
been interpreted in various ways. Some have taken it to mean ‘the 
strong Headobard’, 21 and others ‘the strong Warrior’. It occurred to 
S. Bugge 22 that it might mean ‘the strong Hod {Hqdr)\ although he pre- 
ferred another interpretation. In fact, this interpretation is less improb- 
able than it might appear at first sight. Odinn’s blind son Hod killed 
Baldr with a seemingly harmless mistletoe (see Gh. IV) ; Starkad, the 
favourite of Odinn, killed Vikar with a reed. It is also surprising that, in 
Saxo’s story, the man who killed Starkad was called Hatherus (i.e. Hqdr ) . 
He did not kill him in battle but, by the hero’s own wish, with a sword. 
It was as if Starkad wished to make sure that he would go to Odinn in 
Valholl, as the god-king Njord did, when he ‘had himself marked for 
Odinn’ before he died. 23 It is perhaps implied that one who died with 
the marks of a weapon on his body would go to Valholl, as if he had 
died in battle and not, like those who died in their beds, to Hel. Odinn 
himself, represented as King of the Swedes, was marked with a spear- 
point ( geirsoddi ) when he drew near to death, and was to take to him- 
self all who died by weapons. 24 

While Odinn laid down that Starkad should win the favour of chief- 
tains, it was part of Thor’s curse that all the common people (qll alpyda) 
would loathe him. Starkad’s contempt for the common people is often 
emphasized ; he despised the goldsmith, the shepherd, the cook. In the 
boasting words attributed to the god himself, Odinn took all the princes 
who fell in battle, but the race of thralls belonged to Thor. 25 

The Hdrbardsljody whatever its age, implies an antithesis, a traditional 
enmity between Odinn and Thor, even though they were sometimes 
said to be father and son. Thor is the god of the peasant, and Odinn the 
god of the king, the court and the landless warrior. It is not, therefore, 
surprising that, under Thor’s curse, Starkad must ever be a landless 

It could be supposed that, originally, Starkad was the favourite of 
Odinn, and was therefore the enemy of Thor. The foremost of Thor’s 
enemies were giants and therefore Starkad was conceived as a hero of 
giant origin, and even as a full-blooded giant. This was how the poet 
Vetrlidi saw him about the year 1000. As a giant, or troll, Starkad 
acquired eight arms and other monstrous qualities. 

Harald Wartooth 

Starkad had received the gift of poetry from Odinn. Although it was a 
part of Thdr’s curse that he should never remember a line of his verse, 
medieval writers of Iceland and Denmark claimed to know many of 



M B 



The Icelandic Skdldatal (List of Poets), probably drawn up in the 
twelfth century, opens with the words : ‘StarkaS the Old was a poet , and 
his verses are the oldest known now. He made poetry about the kings 
of the Danes.’ 1 As a warrior-poet, StarkaS was brought into touch with 
another and less complicated OSinn-figure, with whom he shared cer- 
tain features. This was the legendary Harald Wartooth (. Hilditgm ), of 
whom a few words should be said here. 

Harald’s career is traced in some detail by Saxo in Books VII and 
VIII of his History and again in the so-called ‘Fragmentary History of 
Ancient Kings’, 2 whose text is defective. The ‘Fragmentary History’ 
is derived from the lost Skjqldunga Saga, a history of kings of Denmark 
written in Iceland about the beginning of the thirteenth century. 
Harald was also mentioned by several poets, beginning with Einar 
Skalaglamm of the late tenth century. 4 

Like StarkaS, Harald lived the span of three lives, or a hundred and 
fifty years. Like Volsung, he was born of a barren woman through the 
intervention of OSinn. 5 6 Sinn granted him victory, and made his body 
proof against steel and, in return, Harald dedicated all who fell in his 
battles to the god. 

Unlike StarkaS, Harald was a splendid figure but, while he was still 
young, two of his teeth were knocked out and gigantic molars, like tusks, 
grew in their place. For this reason he was called ‘ W artooth’ or 'War- 
toothed’. 6 

OSinn, described by Saxo 7 as a tall, one-eyed man, taught the young 
warrior how to deploy his forces in the field. The deployment was evi- 
dently a kind of wedge, and was called svinfylking or ‘pig-formation’, 
while those in the forefront were called ‘the snout’ (rani). 

This formation may be of continental origin, and an imitation of the 
classical porcinum caput, & but its association with the tusked Harald is re- 
markable and may suggest that, like the more mythical Hadding who 
was also a favourite of OSinn, Harald was in one way associated with 
Freyr, or another fertility-god, to whom the boar was sacred. 

Harald died the death typical of an OSinn-hero. He had conquered 
all Denmark, Sweden and other lands. When he grew old, he placed his 
nephew Hring in charge of Sweden. If we follow Saxo’s story, 9 which 
differs slightly from that in the Icelandic ‘Fragmentary History , 
OSinn, who impersonated Brun (Brum), servant of Harald, sowed 
strife between Harald and his nephew. Harald was now blind, but still 
able to fight, and the two armies met at Bravellir in East Gautland. 
StarkaS was now on the side of the Swedes, and it was said to be m his 
verses that the story of this battle, most famous in the legendary history 
of the north, was recorded. 



Multitudes fell on either side and, in the end, Harald learned that 
the Swedish army was deployed in wedge-formation like his own. Only 
OSinn could have taught them this, and Harald knew now that the god 
had turned against him. OSinn, who was now acting as Harald’s 
charioteer under the name of Bruni, battered the King to death with 
his own club. 

His nephew gave him a magnificent funeral, which is fully described 
by Saxo and in the ‘Fragmentary History’. A great burial mound was 
built, and Harald was drawn into it in a chariot. The horse was killed, 
so that the King might drive or ride to Valholl as he wished. 

It is difficult to place Harald in history ; some have assigned him to 
the sixth century, and some to the eighth or ninth. 11 Whether or not 
Harald ever lived, the story of his death shows the same conception as 
that of the historical Eirfk Blood- axe, who was killed in England about 
the year 954. After Eirik’s death, his widow, Gunnhild, commissioned 
an unnamed poet to make a memorial lay. 12 The poet told how 
Odinn and fallen heroes welcomed the dead King in Valholl. Odinn 
had bereft Eirik of victory because he needed his support in case the 
Ragnarok should come. Already the grey wolf was glaring greedily at 
the dwellings of the gods. Closely similar conceptions are expressed in 
the Hdkonarmdl , 13 composed in memory of Hakon the Good, King of 
Norway, who lost his life a few years later than Eirik. 


We may finally consider the puzzling figure of Hadding (Hadingus), 
who stands closer to the world of gods than to that of men. Hadding’s 
career is traced in detail by Saxo in Book I of his History of the Danes, X 
with lavish quotations from poetry which show that Saxo relied largely 
on ready-made sources, probably of Norwegian or Icelandic provenance. 1 ^ 

Hadding was the son of Gram, King of Denmark, and, after his father 
had been killed by Svipdag, King of Norway, he was sent to Sweden, 
where he was brought up by giants. Hadding brooded on vengeance for 
his father, but was early seduced from this noble purpose by his giant 
foster-mother, HarSgreip (Harthgrepa), who quickened lust in his 
heart. It was she who had given him the breast and, therefore, as she^ 
said, she had claim to his first embraces. 

HarSgreip was not only lustful, but also skilled in magic and necro- 
mancy, and forced a dead man to talk by cutting spells on a chip of 
wood and placing it under his tongue. Before long, however, she was 
torn to pieces by her own race, and it was after this that Hadding’s 
heroic qualities developed. Odinn now appeared in his life as a huge j 
man with one eye. He prevailed on Hadding to enter a covenant of ! 



foster-brotherhood with a viking Liser. The ceremony was performed 
in traditional form, and the blood of the foster-brothers was mixed m 
their footprints. 2 

When Hadding and Liser were defeated by Loker, tyrant oi the 
Kurlanders (Cured), OSinn rescued his favourite, carrying him off on 
his magical charger. He restored him with a draught and gave him 
useful advice. He would be captured by Loker, but using OSinn’s ruses, 
he would break his bonds. The god OSinn, as he boasted in the Hdvamal 
(str. 149) was expert in the use of spells for breaking bonds. Odmn also 
told Hadding that he must kill a lion and devour its flesh and blood, 
from which he would gain strength. The introduction of the lion m 
Saxo’s verse is surprising, and may replace another beast in his source. 
The underlying belief is the same as that expressed in several other 
legends. Sigurd acquired wisdom and vigour from the blood and heart 
of the dragon; his murderer, Guttorm, had to devour wolf’s flesh and 
serpent’s flesh before he had the manliness and cunning to commit his 
crime. 3 

Hadding later defeated and killed his father’s slayer, Svipdag, and 
thus won his hereditary kingdom. Subsequently he enjoyed many of the 
conventional experiences of a viking, warring in Sweden and more dis- 
tant lands of the north and east, but some of his adventures were out of 
the ordinary. 

When he had fled to Helsingj aland, by the Gulf of Bothnia, after a 
defeat in battle, he slaughtered a monster of unknown kind, perhaps a 
jinng&lW half man, half beast. A strange woman then appeared and 
cursed Hadding, for he had slain a bountiful god ( numims almi ) . He must 
suffer for his crime, as indeed he did. His fortunes were not restored until 
he propitiated the gods, evidently with human sacrifice. 5 This sacrifice 
was dedicated to Freyr, and afterwards became an annual one, called 
by the Swedes Fwblot (Sacrifice of Freyr). 

Hadding’s relations with giants were not yet over. He had heard that 
one of their tribe had raped Ragnhild (Regnilda), daughter of a king in 
Norway, and so he went to Norway and rescued her. The girl, grateful 
for her delivery, ministered to his wounds and, so that she might recog- 
nize him again, sealed up a ring in his leg. When she was later allowed 
by her father to choose a husband for herself, Ragnhild examined the 

legs of her suitors and selected Hadding. 

While he was living with Ragnhild, Hadding had another mysterious 
experience. A woman appeared bearing some herbs. Wishing to know 
where such herbs grew in winter, Hadding went with this woman under 
the earth. They passed through mists, and then through sunny, fertile 
regions, where the herbs had grown. Then they came to a raging tor- 



rent, flowing with weapons. Crossing by a bridge, they came upon 
armies of fallen warriors, locked in eternal battle. As they pressed for- 
ward, a wall stood in their way; they could go no further, but the 
woman tore off the head of a cock, which she happened to have with 
her, and flung it over the wall. Immediately the cock came to life and 

This interlude about Hadding’s visit to the underworld runs off at a 
tangent in his story, but it contains a surprising number of notices 
commonly associated in Norse myth with the World of Death, or Hel. 
When HermoS journeyed to Hel to ransom Baldr, 6 he travelled through 
dark deep valleys where he could see nothing. Like Hadding, HermSS 
crossed a torrent, Gjoll, by a bridge and, in his story, the world of 
death was surrounded by a fence [grind ) . Thor, too, when he goes to the 
world of giants, which may be seen as the world of death, crosses mighty 
rivers. 7 The ever-fighting warriors can be no other than OSinn’s einher- 
jar , whose home, in this case, is between the river and the wall of Hel. 
The decapitated cock is puzzling, but no less interesting. It has been 
said to represent the triumph of life over death 8 but, however that may 
be, he is reminiscent of some other poultry recorded in northern myth 
and history. In the Vgluspd (strs. 42-3), we read of three cocks crowing 
at the approach of the Ragnarok. The second of these is ‘Golden- 
combed’ (Gullinkambi), and he awakens GSinn’s warriors. This cock 
must be the same as Salgofnir, who awakens the victorious band in 
Valholl. 9 

Whatever its significance, the decapitated fowl figured in ritual as 
well as in myth. The Arab traveller, Ibn Fodlan, who watched the ship- 
funeral of a Norse chief in Russia early in the tenth century, remarked 
that the woman, who was to join him in death, cut off the head of a hen 
and threw it into the ship (see Gh. XV) . 

Saxo goes on to tell how Hadding returned to the world of the living 
and, once more, engaged in war. As he sailed off the coast of Norway, 
6 Sinn beckoned to him from the shore, and boarded his ship, as he had 
once boarded that of SigurS. 10 OSinn instructed Hadding in deployment 
of his forces, as he also instructed Har aid War tooth. He informed him 
that he would never fall before an enemy, but would die by his own hand. 

The story now returns to Hadding’s relations with his wife, Ragn- 
hild. They were like those between NjorS, god of the sea, and his giant 
wife, SkaSi. 11 Like NjorS, Hadding declared that the rugged hills and 
howling wolves were hateful to him, while he yearned for the sea. His 
wife, in her turn, expressed her loathing of the shrieking seagulls. 

Hadding’s life ended as OSinn had told him it would, but the circum- 
stances were complicated. His friend, Hunding, King of the Swedes, had 



heard false reports that he was dead. Wishing to honour him, Hunding 
prepared a feast, and filled an enormous jar with beer. During the feast, 
Hunding fell into the liquor and drowned, as did Fjolnir, another legen- 
dary king of the Swedes (see Ch. IX) . 

When he heard of his friend’s death, Hadding hanged himself in 

public. s 

Even from a sketch so brief as this, it must be plain that Saxo s story 
of Hadding contains many elements. In the past, many scholars have 
claimed to find an historical basis for the legendary figure, and identi- 
fied him with the famous viking Hasting (Hasten), 12 who was active in 
France and partly in England from 866 to 894. 13 Except that both lived 
as vikings, there is little but the superficial similarity of names to sug- 
gest that the two should be associated. 

Hadding bears many of the marks of an Odinn hero. Odinn brought 
him into foster- brotherhood with the viking Liser. Odinn rescued him 
in defeat, carrying him off on his supernatural horse. He taught him 
how to deploy his forces and to break his fetters, and assured him that he 
would never fall at the hands of an enemy. In the end, Hadding died as 
was fitting for an Odinn hero, hanging himself in public. 

But Hadding also has characteristics of another group of gods, the 
Vanir. As Freyr married the giantess Gerd, and Njord the giantess 
Skadi, so Hadding took his bride from the giant world. Skadi chose 
her husband by his legs alone, and Ragnhild recognized Hadding by 
the ring locked in his leg. 

Hadding told in verses of his hatred of the hills and the wolves and 
his attachment to the sea ; while Ragnhild complained of the shrieking 
gulls by the shore. The verses which Saxo reproduces must be of the 
same origin as those which Snorri quotes, in which Njord and Skadi 
complain in turn of the mountains and the seashore. 14 

It is widely held that the marriage myth was transferred from Njord 
to Hadding, 15 largely because it accords better with other events in the 
story of Njord. If this is so, it can only be because Hadding resembled 
Njord so closely as to be confused, or even identified with him. 

Hadding did not die an heroic death, but hanging on the gallows, 
he seems to sacrifice himself to Odinn. Njord, as King of the Swedes, 
died in his bed, but had himself ‘marked for Odinn’, evidently with a 
spear-point, which would assure his entry into Valholl. 16 

Njord, at any rate in later tradition, is god of the sea and its wealth. 
Hadding lived the greater part of his life as a sea-rover, gloating over 
‘sea-gotten gains’; 17 an Icelandic poet of the twelfth century seems 
also to refer to a legendary or mythical sea-king, Haddingr A 8 

There are some other reasons to associate Hadding with Njord and 



the Vanir. The Vanir were, among other things, gods of sensuality and 
magic, and incest was practised among them. Njord, before he came to 
dwell among the .Esir, had his own sister to wife, 19 and a similar charge 
was made against Freyja and her brother Freyr. 20 It is not told that 
Hadding lived in incest, but it is stated that his giant foster-mother 
claimed his embraces because it was she who had given him the breast. 

Unlike Njord and Freyr, Hadding was not married to a giantess, but 
he took his wife from the giant- world. 

If any doubt should remain about Hadding’s relations with the 
Vanir, it is dispelled when we learn that it was Hadding who established 
the annual festival which the Swedes called Frsblot , or ‘Sacrifice of 

It is plain that Hadding, as he is described by Saxo, combines the 
standard qualities of an Odinn hero with the rarer characteristics of the 
Vanir, gods of fertility and riches. It would be interesting to know to 
which class of gods he was related fundamentally. 

Hadding’s name may help us to understand him. In Saxo’s text he is 
called Hadingus but, as many have agreed, this can be no other than the 
name Haddingr , already quoted. 21 In a later passage (v, 166), Saxo him- 
self names duo Haddingi , sons of the viking Arngrim. These appear in 
Icelandic sources as ‘two Haddingjar’ (tveir Haddingjar ) , 22 As already 
noted, the singular form of the name appears generally as Haddingr 23 
and not, as might be expected, Haddingi . 24 

In fact, this name appears surprisingly often in the plural or dual. Of 
the ‘two Haddingjar’, already named, it was said in one text 25 that they 
were twins and could only do the work of one man. In a legendary 
genealogy of rulers of Norway, preserved in the Flateyjarbok 26 it is said : 
‘Hadding, son of Raumi, owned Haddingjadal and Thelamork ; his son 
was Hadding, father of Hadding, father of Hogni the Red. After him 
three Haddingjar assumed authority, one after another. Helgi, Prince of 
the Haddings ( Haddingjaskati ) was with one of them.’ 

This last passage suggests that Haddingjar was believed in the Middle 
Ages to be the name of a dynasty which had founded and ruled Had- 
dingjadal (now Hallingdal). This is supported by the name Vallis Had- 
dingorum applied to that district in Latin. 27 

I have already mentioned Helgi, Prince of the Haddings ( Hadding - 
jaskati ) . The legends about him reach far back into antiquity. In the 
prose colophon to the ‘Second Lady of Helgi Hundingsbani’ (Slayer of 
Hunding), it is told that Helgi and his mistress, Sigriin, were believed 
to have been reborn. In her new life, Sigrun was called Kara, and 
Helgi’s nickname was ‘Prince of the Haddingjar’. 28 This was related in 
the poem Karuljod. This last poem is lost, but its content seems to be 



reproduced in the so-called Griplur, a poetic sequence of the late Middle 
Ages probably based on a lost saga . 33 Helgi there appears in the service 
of two kings of the Swedes, both called Haddingr . 33 His mistress appears 
as Kara , 31 and protects him in battle in the form of a swan. It is remark- 
able that in this text, as in others quoted, the Haddmgjar are two, 

although they are sometimes more than two. . - 

Further light may be thrown on these intricate problems : by brief 
consideration of external sources. The lines of the Old Enghsh Rumc 
Poem applied to the rune Ing (JIG) read : 

Ing wees asrest rnid East-Denum 

gesewen secgun, oj) he si35an est 

ofer wzeg gewat ; wasn. after ran ; 

5us Heardingas done hsele nemdun. 

Ing was first seen by men among the East-Danes, ull, followed 
by his car, he departed eastwards over the waves. So the 
Heardingas named the hero. 32 

Philologically the name Heardingas corresponds closely with Had- 
dmgjar (or Haddingar) and must, in these lines, be used as 1 ** 
tribe or a dynasty. It is particularly interesting to read that the He 
dingas were worshippers of the charioted god Ing, who is hardly other 
than Freyr. This implies that they pursued the cult of the fertility gods, 
the Vanir, as Saxo’s Hadding was said to do. 

Dynastic and tribal names need not be confined to one dynasty, one 
tribe, but may be transferred from one to another. The Heardingas 
mentioned in the Runic Poem appear to have dwelt among the eastern 
Danes. Their name corresponds also with that of another tribe, or more 
likely a dynasty, mentioned in older continental sources It is told 
that in the latter half of the second century, a people called Asdingi or 
Hasdingi appeared in the region of Hungary . 33 They were led by two 
chieftains, Raos and Raptos, and probably belonged to a branch of the 

V ^The names of the Hasding leaders are certainly surprising, since they 
seem to mean ‘Reed’ (O.N. reyrr) and ‘Rafter’ (O.N. raptr) names 
which might better be applied to primitive idols than to men. W e cou i d, 
however, suppose that the names of the idols or gods were use as Mle 
for the joint leaders of the Hasdingi, just as all members of the ruling 
house of the Swedes took the title Tngvi or Tngum. 3i 

It is not stated in our poor sources that Raos and Raptos were 
brothers, or twins like the Haddingjar, but if their names were origin- 
ally those of gods, it would not be rash to suppose that they represented 



a divine pair. The worship of divine brothers is recorded among other 
eastern Germans. The Naharvali, of whose religious practices Tacitus 
wrote a few words , 35 maintained a holy grove. They had no images or 
idols, but they worshipped two gods, conceived as brothers and young 
men. These, according to Tacitus, corresponded with Castor and 
Pollux, but in the German language they were called Aids. This last 
name is too obscure to form the basis of argument, but is perhaps re- 
lated to Gothic alks (temple) and Old English ealgian (to protect). 

However that may be, the Aids were, like the Haddingjar, brothers 
and perhaps, like Castor and Pollux, twins. The priests who ministered 
to the Aids were muliebri ornatu, which probably implies that they wore 
some emblem, rather than the full dress of women . 36 Some of the Lap- 
pish priests, it is said, used to wear a woman’s hat or headdress . 37 

We may return to the Haddingjar, brothers, even twins who could 
only do the work of one. Their name has been variously explained, but 
most have agreed that it is related to the O.N. haddr Z8 which, in the 
contexts where it is used, rarely if ever means other than ‘a woman’s 
coiffure ’. 39 In other words, the name Haddingjar means ‘those with their 
hair dressed as women’. This suggests not only that they were thought 
of as priests, but as priests of a distinct rite, and as such they would be 
divine, even incarnate gods. 

It has been seen that Hadding and the Heardingas practised the cult 
of the Vanir. If so, it is not surprising that they should have feminine 
characteristics, for the Vanir were gods of voluptuary rather than of 
war. We may remember how the warlike StarkaQ, residing in Uppsala 
among the sons of Freyr, was disgusted at the effeminate gestures and 
the unmanly jingling of bells which accompanied the sacrifices . 46 We 
may remember too, that the Vanir originated the practice of seidr, a 
kind of witchcraft which was accompanied by gross ergi , 41 a term 
covering homosexuality and every kind of unmanly practice . 42 

It could be objected that we have no evidence that the Haddingjar 
wore women’s clothes, or had their hair dressed as women. Dumezil 43 
has pointed out that Helgi, the Slayer of Hunding, who was also Prince 
of the Haddingjar, once escaped hi§ pursuers by putting on the clothes 
of a bondwoman and turning the mill. In the Griplur , 44 the same story 
is told of Helgi’s antagonist, Hromund. 

It is a more weighty objection that the Hadding (Hadingus) whose 
story Saxo tells is only one. Indeed, he had a brother, Guthorm, but he 
quickly vanishes from the story. It is as if Saxo, or the source which he 
used, had dropped one of the Haddingjar brothers because the concept 
of dual chieftainship was a thing of the past and was no longer under- 



In general, it appears that the Haddingjar were twin gods or divine 
ancestors, comparable with the Alcis, and perhaps with Hengest and 
Horsa, founders of the English nation. 45 They may thus be related ulti- 
mately to other legendary and mythical pairs in the Germanic world 
and far beyond it. We may think, not only of Castor and Pollux, but 
also of Romulus and Remus and the Indian Asvins, who were also said 
to be twins. 

In this chapter we have read a few stories of kings and heroes, who 
appear, in one way or another, to be dedicated to divinities and pro- 
tected by them. Some of them, like the Haddingjar, should perhaps be 
seen as gods rather than as men. Of others, including Harald W ar- 
tooth, we may say, in the words of the Hyndluljdd (str. 28) : 

|>eir voru gumnar These warriors 

godum signadir were dedicated to gods. 

The stories quoted in this chapter may have little basis in history, but 
the practice of dedicating a child to a god is well attested in historical 
records. In the Eyrbyggja Saga (Ch. VII) it is told that a boy was born 
and called Steinn, but his father ‘gave’ him to Thor, and so he was 
called Thorsteinn. The father himself was called Hr 61 f, but he was 
such an ardent worshipper of Thor that he was known as Thorolf {see 
Ch. III). 

Such practices as these, if we may judge by a ‘learned’ passage in the 
fourteenth-century Hauksbok 46 were common enough in pagan times, 
and those who had the names of gods compounded with their own 
names were assured of good fortune and long life. 



The Disir — Fylgja and Hammgja — -Elves, Earth-spirits 

The Disir 

Poets and saga-writers frequently mention female deities of a 
kind called disir (sing, dis), and although they never describe them 
clearly they give some idea of their place in religious life. 

A festival called the disablot (sacrifice to the disir) was held in their 
honour in autumn, or at the beginning of winter, the ‘winter-nights’, 1 
and it was the occasion of heavy drinking. 2 

The festival was sometimes held in a private house, 3 but more than 
once mention is made of a disarsalr , ‘hall of the dis (sing.)’, in which the 
sacrifice was performed. 4 Little is told about the form of the sacrifice, 
but according to the romantic HeiSreks Saga, 6 a woman reddened, or 
smeared sacrificial blood on the altar ( hqrgr ) late at night. 

According to the Viga-Glums Saga (Ch. V) many gathered in the 
same house to celebrate the festival of the disir , but these were friends 
and relations of the master of the house, and the festival seems generally 
to be private rather than public, at least in western Scandinavia.® 

This suggests that the disir were tutelary goddesses attached to one 
neighbourhood, one family, perhaps even to one man. Texts in which 
they are mentioned lend some support to this suggestion. A hero speaks 
in verse of ‘our disir ’, 7 and a woman, interpreting a dream, speaks of the 
disir of her husband as ‘thy disir ’. 8 

In passages like these, the disir are hardly to be distinguished from the 
fylgjur , attendant spirits who protect an individual or a clan. Indeed, 
medieval writers sometimes identified the two, as in the story of Thid- 
randi, which will be quoted below, where the word disir interchanges 
with jylgjur; by the time the literary sources took shape, the conception 
of the disir had grown hazy. In poetry the word disir is occasionally 
applied to Valkyries, who are called Herjans disir (Odinn’s disir), and by 
similar epithets. Remorseful for having killed their brother, the heroes, 
Hamdir and Sorli, said: ‘the disir incited us to this’. 9 For them the disir 
can be no other than valkyries. 10 




Elsewhere, poets use the word disk as if it meant ‘norns’, or fate- 
goddesses who attend the birth of every child. 11 In scaldic kenmngs the 
word is used basically to mean ‘goddess’. 12 In heroic and encomiastic 
poetry it is occasionally applied to earthly women, and especially to 
those of high rank. In this usage poets were probably influenced by the 
Old High German itis or Old English ides (‘woman’, also virgin ). 
This word was long regarded as the same as O.N. dis but, because o 
philological difficulties, later scholars have favoured another etymo- 
logy. 14 Even if not related, the words ides and dis are sufficiently alike 
for the poetical usage of the first to influence that of the second. 

An instructive account of the disk , apocryphal as it is, is given m t e 
story of Thidrandi, 15 who, according to Njdls Saga 16 was killed by the 
disk. The scene of this story is south-eastern Iceland, shortly before the 
country was converted to Christianity in the year ad iooo. 

Thorhall the Prophet (spdmadr), a settler from Norway was a friend of 
Hall of Slda, who was to be one of the first chieftains to adopt Christianity 
and one of its most fervent protagonists. Hall’s eldest son, Thidrandi, is pre- 
sented as the noble pagan, and a man of stainless character, who lived as a 

merchant, travelling from land to land. . , 

One summer, Thorhall the Prophet was staying with Hall, and I hidrandi 
was also present. As the summer drew on, the prophet grew ever more down- 
cast; he was apprehensive about the approaching autumn feast, which his 
host was to hold. He had a premonition that a prophet (. spamadr) would be 
killed, but his host reassured him, saying that he had seiected an ox loi 
slaughter, and the ox was called ‘Prophet’ (Spdmadr ). 1 Thorhall did not fear 
for his own life, but he apprehended disaster. 

The feast was held at the ‘winter-nights’, and few attended because the 
weather was boisterous. Thorhall warned the household not to go out during 

the night, nor open the door, even if anyone knocked. 

After the feasters had gone to bed there was a knock at the door, and 
Thidrandi, disregarding the warning, opened it and took his sword. He saw 
no one, and went out to look round; he heard the sound of horses galloping 
from the north, and beheld nine women, dressed in black with drawn swords ' 
riding towards him. Looking to the south, he saw another group of nine 
women; these were dressed in shining raiment, and mounted on white 
horses Thidrandi turned back to the house, but the black-dressed women 
caught him up. He defended himself manfully, but they gave him a mortal 
wound. He was carried home and died after telling his tale on the next 

morning. , tT . , 

It was left to Thorhall the Prophet to explain these marvels. It is my be- 
lief 5 he said, ‘that these were not women, but the attendant spirits of your 
family ( fylgjur ybrar franda ) . After this, as I believe, there will be a change oi 
religion and a better one will come to this land. I think that those disir of 
yours, who have adhered to the old religion (pessum dtrunadi), knew oi the 



change beforehand, and they took Thidrandi as their portion. The better 
disk wished to help him, but they could not do so as things stood . . .’ 

This story is preserved in the conflated version of the Saga of Olaf 
Tryggvason. It has been said that it was written by the Benedictine 
monk, Gunnlaug Leifsson (died 1218). 18 In any case, it is a clerical 
piece, stamped with missionary ardour. Its Christian elements have 
been carefully sifted by D. Stromback. 19 It is a story of conflict between 
the Christian and heathen religions, between good and evil. The disk 
have assumed the characters of good and evil angels, the divine and 
Satanic guardians of medieval legend. They are like the hosts of angels 
who proceed from Heaven and Hell, struggling for a man’s soul at the 
time of death. The better disk resemble the armies of Revelation (XIX), 
mounted on horses, clothed in linen pure and white. 

But for all the Christian colouring, the story contains elements which 
cannot be explained from Christian legend, and it gives an insight into 
the pagan conceptions of the disk. 

We learn, in the first place, that the disk are attached to one family. 
It was seen already that they might attend on one man, and it is not 
difficult to understand why Christian apologists should equate them 
with guardian angels, good and bad, who accompany everyone. We 
learn also that Thidrandi was taken at the ‘winter-nights’, a time when 
a feast was held and it was customary to offer sacrifice to the disk. 
Although few were present, the seasonal feast was held on this occasion, 
but it is not told that any tribute was paid to the disk. Although still 
pagans, those who take part in this story are all described as upright 
and good men, far in advance of their contemporaries in Iceland. Even 
before Christianity came to Iceland, Hall was the trusted friend of Olaf 
Tryggvason. 20 Thidrandi had lately travelled in foreign lands and the 
author of the story sees him as a man inspired by Christian charity, 
‘gentle with every child’. Thorhall the Prophet showed that he was 
waiting for a better religion, despising the one in which he had been 
brought up. 

The troop of black-clad women thus represent traditional heathen- 
dom, and the author creates a counterpart, the white-clad disir, who 
had not power to rescue their favourite in a pagan land. The black-clad 
disk knew well that a new religion was on the way, but they were not 
prepared to be neglected or to forfeit the tribute, which they were 
accustomed to receive at the winter-nights. Defrauded of ox-blood, they 
seized as their portion the eldest and most promising son of the house. 21 

As I have remarked, the disk are once called fylgjur in the stoiy of 
Thidrandi. Both disk and fyljgur were often described as female tutelary 




spirits and, although they are sometimes difficult to distinguish, certain 
fundamental differences are apparent. 

Unlike the fylgjur, the disir were the object of a cult, receiving sacrifice 
at regular times. The season of their festival was the winter-nights, but 
they were not the only deities who accepted sacrifice at that time. It is 
said in the Gisla Saga (X) : 

Now summer passed and the time of the winter-nights arrived. It was then 
the custom of many to greet the winter, holding feasts and a winter-night 
sacrifice. Gisli had given up sacrifice since he had been at Viborg in Den- 
mark, but he kept up his feasts and all his munificence just as before. 

In a later chapter of the same saga (XV), we learn something about 
the purpose of the winter-night feast : 

Thorgrim Freysgodi (Priest of Freyr) intended to hold an autumn feast, to 
greet the winter and to sacrifice to Freyr. 22 

It was the custom to offer sacrifice to Freyr for fruitful harvest and 
peace (til ars ok fridar ) as well as on the occasion of marriage. It was the 
ithyphallic Freyr who governed peace and bestowed sensual pleasure. 23 

Such considerations lead us to suspect that the disk were, from one 
aspect, goddesses of fertility. This suspicion grows stronger when we 
remember that the fertility goddess, Freyja, is called Vanadis ( dis of the 
Vanir) ; 24 she is the supreme dis, whose help should be sought in love. 

The disk are sometimes closely associated with women. A woman, 
according to the Heidreks Saga , took the leading part in their worship, 
smearing the altar with blood, and another woman named in the same 
saga, hanged herself in the hall of the dis (disarsalr) 55 It is not extra- 
vagant to suppose that one of the functions of the disk was to support 
the clan by promoting the fertility of its women. 

As shown in the story of Thidrandi, the disk may turn against their 
ward and withdraw their support. Before King Geirrod fell on his 
sword, Odinn said to him : ‘the disk are angry’. 26 

Sometimes the disk are said to be dead, and therefore powerless to 
help. When the Norwegian hero, Utsteinn, boasted that the disk of his 
band had come to Denmark, his enemy answered : Tor you all the disk 
are dead’. 27 A more illuminating passage is found in the Greenland ‘Lay 
of Atli’. Before the hero Gunnar set out on his perilous journey to Atli, 
his wife told him of a foreboding dream : 

Konur hugdak daudar 
koma l n6tt hingat, 
veeri vart bunar, 
vildi J)ik kjosa, 

I dreamed that dead women 
came here tonight ; 
they were sadly clothed, 
and wished to take you ; 

bydi fier bralliga 
til bekkja sinrja : 
ek kved afiima 
ordnar per disir. 

they bade you come quickly 
to their own homes ; 

I say that powerless 
are the disk for you. 28 

In this last passage, the disir are dead women, calling the hero to join 
them in the world of the dead ; they are probably dead female ancestors. 
It is described in other texts how the dead call doomed men to join 
them, 29 and the poet, Bjorn Hitdcelakappi, seems to speak of a dis who 
calls him home. 30 As is shown in many other sources, fertility cults can- 
not always be dissociated from the cult of the dead. 

The word dis is not an uncommon element in place-names. Here and 
there, in north-western Iceland, rocks are called Landdisasteinar (stones 
of the land-^mV). Until recently it was forbidden to mow, or for children 
to play around them. 31 In such cases it looks as if the disk were identi- 
fied with the landvattir, the protecting spirits of the land. 

The name Disahwys (krays, stone-pile) is also recorded in Norway. 32 
Another name, Disin, probably from * Disavin (meadow of the disk), is 
applied to no less than five places in the south-east of Norway. Some of 
these stand close to places whose names contain the element Por 
UU- ( Ullinn -), gods with whom the disir were perhaps associated. The 
element vin, in place-names, appears to date from the prehistoric 
period, and was often applied to places of public worship. This sug- 
gests that the cult of the disk was of great age, at least in south-eastern 
Norway. Association with the god Ullr (or Ullinn), almost a prehis- 
toric figure, supports this suggestion. 33 The names Diseberg (rock of the 
disk) and Disevi (temple, sanctuary of the disk) are also recorded in 
Ostergotland (Sweden). 34 

The names last mentioned may imply that, in eastern regions, the 1 ! 
cult of the disir was more public than it was in the west. Literary sources \ 
give strong evidence of this. The disablot , held in the house of the King, 
according to Heidreks Saga, 55 was in Alfheimar, said to lie in the extreme 
east of Norway. The disarsalr, where, according to the same saga, the 
Queen hanged herself, stood in Reidgotaland, which may be Jutland 
but is, in any case, in the east. The traditions underlying the Heidreks 
Saga are vague and untrustworthy, but greater faith may be placed in 
those which underlie the Tnglinga Tal, Tnglinga Saga and Historia Jior- 
vegiae (see Gh. I). 

According to the Tnglinga Saga (Ch. XXIX) : ‘Adds (King of the 
Swedes) was present at a sacrifice to the disk ( disablot ) and, as he rode 
his horse around the hall of the dis ( disarsalr ), the horse stumblej, and 
the King fell forward, striking his head on a stone. His skull was 
broken, and the King’s brains were left on the stone’. 





The same story is given, although with fewer details, in the Historia 
Norvegiae , 36 where the hall of the dis is called Mdes Diana. 

As Snorri tells it in the Tnglinga Saga, the story is based largely on the 
poem Tnglinga Tal of the late ninth century. In the poem, the circum- 
stances of the King’s death are substantially the same as they are in the 
sagas, but it is caused by the ‘witch’ (pitta vettr), who must be identified 
with the dis or the goddess Diana of the Historia. Whether or not the 
sudden death of the King was a royal sacrifice, 37 it seems clear that the 
term dis is here applied to a single goddess. This goddess, like the dead 
disir of the Atlamal , had called the King to join her. If she is not herself 
dead, she is the goddess of death. Since Uppsala was certainly the scene 
of King Adils’s death, and this was the centre of the cult of the Vanir, 
it is not rash to suppose that we have here to do with the Vanadis, 
Freyja, and that the sacrifice at which the King met his end was a fer- 
tility sacrifice. 

Far-reaching conclusions have been drawn from an earlier passage 
in the Tnglinga Tal (str. 7) in which the poet, speaking of a mythical 
King Dyggvi, who died in his bed, says : 

KveQkat dul, 
Glitnis Gna 
jDvit jodis 
ok allvald 
Loka masr 

nema Dyggva hror 
at gamni hefr ; 

Ulfs ok Nara 
kjosa skyldi ; 
Yngva hjoSar 
at leikum (?) hefr. 

with the Old English and Old High German words ides and itis (woman). 
Consequently the itisi, the women, who, according to the first Merse- 
burg Charm, 40 cast spells inhibiting warriors, need not be the same as 
the disir. 

There are, however, stronger reasons to associate the disir with the 
matres and matronae, whose cult was practised widely in Celtic and Ger- 
manic areas. Matres and matronae, carved in relief, are depicted on votive 
stones in Roman style, some of them dated as early as the first century 
of our era. These stones are most numerous on the left bank of the 
Lower Rhine, but examples are also found in Gaul, northern Italy and 
England. 41 Commonly three female figures are shown, holding baskets 
of fruit and occasionally giving suck to children. 

Some of the matres are denoted in the accompanying inscriptions by 
local or tribal names, e.g. matres Suebiae, matres Frisiavae paternae , and 
sometimes they have more functional names, such as Alagabiae (lavish 
giver ?), Afliae (cf O.N. afl, power) . 

Bede, 42 in his list of names by which the ancient English called their 
months, mentions a festival which English heathens used to celebrate 
at the Christmas season. They called this festival modranect , i.e. matrum 
noctem. Bede was, no doubt, thinking of the festival of the matres, who 
may be thought of as departed ancestors, assuring the welfare and 
prosperity of their descendants. The disir were also described as ‘dead 
women’ ; the deities of death and fertility are often linked and even 

These lines could be rendered tentatively : T tell no secret, the horse- 
goddess has taken the corpse of Dyggvi for her delight; for the jodis of 
Ulf and Nari chose the king; and the daughter of Loki has the ruler of 
the people of Yngvi as her plaything.’ 

The jodis of Ulf and Nari is here identified with the ‘goddess’ of the 
horse’ ( Glitnis Gna), and with the daughter of Loki, i.e. the goddess of 
death, Hel. Formally, jodis could mean ‘horsed’ and this is how many 
commentators have interpreted it. 38 

Freyja is the supreme dis; she is goddess of fertility and sister of the 
chief fertility god, Freyr. The horse is a symbol of Freyr and his fertility 
and, at the same time, the symbol of death, 39 and this explains why Hel 
is the ‘goddess of the horse’. In the story of Thidrandi the disir angels of 
death were seen mounted, as were many other apparitions foreboding 

It would be interesting to know whether female deities comparable 
with the disir were venerated in continental Germany and England. As 
remarked, philologists doubt whether the word dis should be equated 


Fylgja and Hamingja 

In the story of Thidrandi, the disir were once called Jylgjur (sing, fylgja). 
In the mind of the author, the two words must have been synonyms, or 
nearly so, and there are several texts which show how the conceptions 
underlying them tended to converge, although they were originally 

Dis and fylgja might both be translated loosely as ‘guardian-spirit, 
attendant’, but some of the texts in which they are mentioned reveal 
fundamental differences between them. It is also noteworthy that, 
while dis- is fairly commonly used as an element in place-names, 
does not appear in them. The disir plainly filled a more important place 
in religious life than the Jylgjur did. 

The disir were objects of a cult, and their festival, the disablot, was held 
at regular times. They were superior beings, detached from man, 
although standing in close relationship to an individual, a family or a 
community. Men must revere them or else incur their wrath. 

The jylgjur , on the other hand, do not appear as the objects of a cult, 



and we never read of a festival held in their honour. They stood in 
closer relation to man than the didr and, in origin, they were part of 
him. The word fylgja could perhaps be translated more precisely as 

‘fetch’. 1 

The origin of the word fylgja has been disputed. Formally, it could 
be nom. agentis of the verb fylgja (to accompany), and that was how 
some medieval writers understood it. But whether this is correct or not, 
the word cannot be dissociated from its homonym fylgja, which means 
‘afterbirth, caul’. This noun could also be derived from the verb, but it 
is more likely to be related to Icelandic fulga (thin covering of hay) and 
Norwegian dialect folga (skin, covering), and with the verb fela (to 

However that may be, the superstitious practices recorded in Iceland 
in recent times show how intimately the beliefs in the afterbirth were 
associated with those in the fetch. The afterbirth was believed to con- 
tain a part of the infant’s ‘soul’, which was incomplete until it had been 
released. It must, therefore be tended carefully, and not thrown out into 
the open, where animals might devour it, for then the child will be de- 
prived of its fetch. 3 Beliefs of this kind are not confined to Iceland, but 
have been noticed among many peoples. For some of them, the after- 
birth is not merely associated with the fetch ; it is the fetch, or a twin 
brother who accompanies a man throughout life and defends him 
against danger. 4 

In early Icelandic stories the fetch is rarely visible except to men 
gifted with second sight, at the moment of death, and especially m 
dreams. 5 It takes the form of a woman, or more often of an animal. Its 
introduction at times of stress and before inpending disaster was used 
in Icelandic literature as a standard literary motive. 

The fetch is not necessarily the companion of one man. It may accom- 
pany a family, or pass from one member of it to another through suc- 
ceeding generations. In such cases its most usual form is that of a 

The conception of the family fetch may be illustrated by a story told 
in the Hallfredar Saga (XI). Hallfred, the favourite poet of Olal 
Tryggvason, fell ill at sea, and just before he died he and his com- 
panions beheld a great, armoured woman walking on the waves, as it 
on land. Recognizing the woman as his fetch (jylgjukona), the poet 
exclaimed : ‘I declare that all is now over between us.’ The woman now 
turned to the poet’s brother, asking her to receive him, but he rejected 
her curtly. She passed on to the poet’s son, who shared his father s 
name, Hallfred, and when he welcomed her she vanished. 

In other cases, the family fetch may protect those to whom she is 



obliged. In the Vatnsdcela Saga (XXXVI), a hero had undertaken to 
attend a party at which a sorceress plotted his death. For three suc- 
ceeding nights ‘the woman who had accompanied his family’ appeared 
to him in sleep, warning him of the danger. In the end she touched his 
eyes, causing an illness which prevented him from going to the party, 
thus saving his life. 

There are many more stories in which the fetch takes the form of an 
animal, and to see one’s fetch in animal form is an omen of death. 
Before he was killed, Thord, fosterer of the sons of Njdll, saw a goat 
covered with blood, but there was no goat, and the wise Njall knew 
that Thord was doomed. 6 

It is more often others who see a man’s fetch, and especially his rela- 
tions or enemies. If they have second sight, they may see it in a waking 
state, but it generally appears in dreams. 

The form which a man’s animal fetch takes is determined by his 
character, or rather by the estimate which those who see it make of his 
character. Before Gudmund the Mighty, chieftain of Eyjafjord, died in 
1025, his brother dreamed of a huge ox walking up the fjord. The ox 
dropped dead when he reached the high seat on Gudmund’s farm. 7 

Sometimes whole herds of cattle appear in dreams, and each one is 
the fetch of a man. An old woman once dreamed of a herd of cattle, all 
of different colours and sizes, goring each other to death. These cattle 
were all fetches of men who appear in the saga, and the dream was a 
portent of manslaughter and a feud which was to plague two families 
through succeeding generations. 8 

Fetches often appear as bears, especially those of brave and noble 
men, such as Gunnar of Hlidarendi and Orvar-Odd. 9 Those plotting 
attack are seen by their enemies as wolves. If the assailants are par- 
ticularly sly and vicious, they may take the form of foxes. 10 In one 
passage a doomed man dreams of his own fetch in the form of a chest- 
nut, i.e. a blood-coloured horse. 11 Fetches appear also as birds, eagles, 
swans, hawks. In less realistic sagas a whole menagerie of animals 
appears as fetches of men, and they include such exotic beasts as lions, 
leopards, etc. The influence of French romances, in which such beasts 
also appear as men’s fetches is apparent. 12 

The fetch {fylgja) may be comparable with the ‘soul’ (sdl) , a word 
used by Norse Christian writers, for which the pagans had no exact 
equivalent. 13 The ‘soul’ is personified, even materialized, and lives a 
life of its own. Another word, hugr, which is often translated by ‘thought, 
mind’ is occasionally used in a concrete sense, synonymous with fylgja. 
Wolves and other vicious beasts seen in dreams are said to be manna 
hugir (‘minds’ of men). 14 The god Odinn has two ravens, Huginn and 



Muninn, who fly over the world every day, and may be his thought 
and ‘memory’ in concrete form. 16 

Although the word fylgja is generally used in such concrete senses as 
those quoted, it also developed a more abstract meaning, and thus 
became nearly synonymous with gipta, gafa, words which are often 
translated by ‘luck, fortune’, but imply rather a kind of inherent, in- 
born force. When a man says of his enemies: hafa peir bmdr rammar 
fylgjur , 16 he does not mean that they have ‘strong fetches’, but rather 
that they are gifted with a mighty, inborn force. When the Jarl Rogn- 
vald said to his son : liggja fylgjur pinar til Islands , he meant only that his 
son’s destiny lay in Iceland. Similarly, the word kynfylgja , which for- 
mally could mean ‘family fetch’, is recorded only in abstract senses, 

such as ‘inherited gift, characteristic or failing’. 17 . 

The use of the word hamingja is comparable with that of fylgja. It is 
compounded with hamr (skin, shape), which is occasionally used to mean 
‘fetch’. 18 Hamingja is generally used in abstract senses of ‘inborn force, 
luck’. But when a man ‘lends’ his hamingja to another, 19 as kings often 
do, the sense is more nearly concrete. More rarely, the hamingja is per- 
sonified, and the word is applied to a female fetch. The hero, Glum, 
dreamed on his farm in Iceland of a gigantic woman, who walked up 
the fjord towards his house, her shoulders brushing the mountains on 
either side. He knew that his maternal grandfather must have died in 
Norway, and the woman was his hamingja, or fetch, who had come to 
join his descendant in Iceland. 20 

Elves, earth-spirits, dwarfs 

As will be seen in Ch. XII, a chieftain living in Iceland brought sacri- 
fice to a rock, believing that it was the home of his drmadr, who assured 
his prosperity, or of his spamadr, who told him of things to come. 

The man in the rock has something in common with an elf {dlfr). It is 
told in an early saga how a man wounded in a duel was healed by elves 
(i dlfar ). On the advice of a wise woman he bought the carcase of an ox, 
which had been ceremonially slaughtered on the duelling field. He 
smeared the blood of the ox on a mound or hillock inhabited by elves, 
and gave them a feast of its meat. 1 

Turning from Iceland to south-western Sweden, we hear of another 
sacrifice to elves, or Alfablot . St Olaf’s favourite poet, Sigvat, went on a 
mission through the forests in that region about the year 1019, and left 
a record of his adventures in a series of verses which still survive. 2 

The natives, unchristian and inhospitable, drove the poet from their 
homes. He came to one farm and the housewife was standing in the 
doorway ; she told him to make off, for she feared the wrath of Odinn. 


Her household was heathen and she was holding a sacrifice to the elves. 
The expressions used by Sigvat lead us to think that the housewife her- 
self was conducting the sacrifice, just as women were seen sometimes to 
conduct the sacrifice to the disir and to the deified priapus, Volsi. 3 It 
appears to be a private festival, to which no strangers were admitted. 

The dlfablot took place at the beginning of winter, about the same 
time as the disablot, the sacrifice to Freyr and to the Volsi. It appears 
thus to be a sacrifice for fertility. It was seen in Gh. IX how sacrifice 
was offered to a dead king, Olaf, for fruitful harvest. This king came to 
be called ‘the elf of GeirstaSir’ [Geirstadadlfr ) . 

Other instances are recorded of sacrifice to dead kings and chieftains 
(cf Ch. IX), but the nickname ‘elf’ applied to Olaf, suggests that elves, 
dwelling in mounds, had come to be identified with the dead. In this 
case they may be male counterparts of the disir. In support of this last 
suggestion it may be added that the woman who reddened the altar 
during the disablot was called Alfhildr ; she was daughter of Alfr, King of 
Alfheimar, said to lie in the extreme east of Norway. 4 

Snorri, 6 perhaps over-schematically, distinguished two kinds of elves, 
light elves ( Ijosalfar ) and dark elves (dokkdlfar) . The dark elves were 
black as pitch and lived underground, but the light elves were more 
beautiful than the sun, and lived in a splendid place called Alfheimr 
(Elf-world). Snorri seems to describe two aspects 'of the elves; they are 
the dead and, at the same time the promoters of fertility; they are 
beautiful and hideous at once. 

This is supported by the Grimnismal (str. 5), where it is said that the 
gods (tivar) gave Alfheimr to Freyr when he cut his first tooth. It was 
seen in earlier chapters how intimately the Vanir, gods of fertility and 
riches, were associated with death. The life-giving, fertilizing sun was 
sometimes called alfrqdull (ray of the elves), almost as if the elves had 
made it. 

Elves are often named in poetry together with disir, and occasionally 
both with disir and Vanir. The elves ( ylfa , gen. pi.) are also coupled 
with disir (esa) in an Old English charm. This suggests that, in early 
times, they had stood nearly on a par with these great tribes of gods. 

The light elves were beautiful, and the dark elves were black. Alfhild 
of Alfheimar, who was raped by the giant, was the most beautiful of 
women, and all people of that region were more beautiful than others. 

These two aspects of the elves, the beautiful and the hideous and 
wicked, were shared by English tradition. In Beowulf (line 112) they 
are grouped with the monsters eotenas and orcneas, and they are also 
named with other evil beings. At the same time, an adjective dfsciene 
(beautiful as an elf) is recorded several times in Old English texts. 




It is an old and widespread belief that elves cause illnesses and Old 
English terminology is rich in expressions which show this Mfadenj* 
said to mean ‘a nightmare’, and alfsogoda hiccoughs . Ylfagescot (elf- 
shot) is applied to certain diseases of men and beasts. In Norwegian 
the term alvskot is given to various diseases and in Icelandic a form o 
skin disease in animals is called dlfabruni (elf-burn). , ,, 

The dlfar have survived into modern times as hidden beings, hardly 
to be distinguished from the huldufolk , the hidden people or fairies. 

The land-spirits or landvattir were even more closely attached to the 
soil than the elves ; the welfare of the land, and thus of its inhabitants, 

depended largely upon them. . 

It is laid down in the first clause of the pagan law of Iceland, intro- 
duced about ad 930, that no one may approach the country m ships 
furnished with gaping heads and yawning snouts, i.e. dragon-heads, it 
they had them they must remove them before they came m sight o 
land, for otherwise the landvattir would take fright. 

A similar conception of the landvattir appears m the Egils Saga (LVLl ), 
probably the work of Snorri (see Gh. I). The Icelandic poet, EgiU, had 
been outlawed in Norway by Eirik Bloodaxe and his vicious Qpeen 
Gunnhild. Before he left Norway, Egill went up onto an island oil th 
coast of Hordaland. He fixed a horse’s head on a hazel-pole and turned 
it towards land, saying : ‘here I set up a. pole of hatred (ntdstgng). _ I direct 
this hatred to King Eirik and Queen Gunnhild; I direct it to the land- 
vattir 9 who inhabit this land, so that all of them shall lose their way 
none of them find nor reach his home until they drive King Eirik and 
Gunnhild from the land’. The curse was inscribed m runes on the pole, 
and the gaping horse-head seems to fill the place of a dragon prow. _ 

A more puzzling story is told in the Landndmabok.™ > As will be seen in 
Gh. XIV, a godless settler, Hjorleif, was murdered by Irish thralls on 
HiorleifshofSi, a headland in the extreme south of Iceland. Eor some 
time afterwards no one dared to appropriate land in that region be- 
cause of the landvattir. Perhaps they feared that the landvattir were angry 
because blood had been shed on their territory They might alsc . have 
feared that the landvattir had taken fright and that the land would no 

^Th 7 landvattir had their favourites. A certain Bjorn nicknamed Goat- 
Biorn, was short of livestock. He dreamed that a rock-dweller (bergbui) 
came to him and offered his partnership. Soon afterwards a billy-goat 
joined Bjorn’s goats; they multiplied and Bjorn grew rich. Secon - 
sighted people used to see all the landvattir with Bjorn when they went to 
the assembly, and with his brothers when they were out fishing. 

Little is told of the appearance of the landvattir except m a ra 



apocryphal story given by Snorri. 12 Harald Gormsson, King of the 
Danes (died 986), having a grudge against the Icelanders, hired a 
wizard to go to their country in the form of a whale. When he reached 
the first fjord in Iceland, the whale saw that the mountains and hillocks 
were full of landvattir. In the first fjord he met a dragon, with other 
crawling monsters, who spewed poison on him. In the next fjord he met 
an enormous bird, whose wings brushed the mountains on both sides, 13 
followed by other birds, large and small. In another fjord he faced a 
bull, which waded out to sea, bellowing terribly. Finally he met a rock- 
giant ( bergrisi ), standing higher than the hills, carrying an iron pole. A 
lot of other giants were with him. After this the whale made off. 

This tale shows how the landvattir protected the land in which they 
dwelt. The symbols, however, appear to be largely Christian. It is told 
in a homily of the twelfth century, preserved both in Icelandic and 
Norwegian manuscripts, that the four evangelists were denoted by 
symbols of this kind. Matthew’s symbol was a man, Luke’s an ox, 
John’s an eagle, while Mark’s was a lion. These symbols, as the Norse 
homilist knew, derived from Revelation (IV) and ultimately from Ezekiel 
(X). The homily was intended to be read on the feast of St John the 
Evangelist, and Snorri probably heard it every year. 14 

In the next chapter I shall mention men in many parts of Scandina- 
via who venerated stones, waterfalls and trees and other natural ob- 
jects. Many more examples could be given, and the sources seem to 
show that the objects were venerated, not for themselves, but for the 
protective beings, sometimes called landvattir , who lived in them. 

Like the alfar and other minor deities, the landvattir survived the Con- 
version. Under a Norwegian law of the late thirteenth century, it was 
forbidden to believe that landvattir lived in groves, mounds and water- 
falls (see p. 237). A more detailed statement is found in the Hauksbqk , 15 
of the early fourteenth century. This is included in a homily traceable 
to Ccesarius of Arles, to which the Norse redactor has made an addition. 
He says that some women are so stupid as to take their food to stone- 
piles and into caves. They consecrate it to the landvattir and then eat it, 
believing that the landvattir will be friendly to them, and they will be 
more prosperous. The practice appears to be a debased form of com- 


The dwarfs ( dvergar ), as already seen, played some part in myth and 
a greater one in story, but there is little to suggest that they were 
venerated. They are remembered chiefly as craftsmen ; they brewed the 
mead of poetry (see Ch. II, God of Poetry), and were renowned as forgers 
of costly treasures. These included the golden hair of Thor’s wife, Sif, 
Odinn’s spear, Gungnir and, most wonderful of all, Thor’s hammer, 


myth and religion of the north 

Miollnir™ The GrimnismdlP tells also how the dwarfs sons of Ivaldi, 
built Freyr’s ship, Ski0bla8nir. This ship could carry all the flisir in full 
armour /she always had a following wind, and was made of so many 
pieces that she could be folded up and carried m a purse. Sometimes, 
when dwarfs were compelled to forge treasures, or surrender them I 
laid a curse on them. The gold which Sigur8 was to seize &om <he 
dragon Fafnir, had been taken by Loki from a dwarf, and the curse 
which it carried led to the tragedies of the Volsungar and Nlflungan 
legendary king compelled two dwarfs to forge a magic sword, Tyrfing. 
It^coulchnever be drawn without bringing death, and three dastardly 
crimes were destined to be done with it. 18 Nearly the same was told of 
another sword, Dainsleif, also made by dwarfs. 19 

Dwarfs were repositories of wisdom The Alvmmal (Words ^ ^mst 
wise) a didactic poem like the VafPruSmsmdl (see Ch. I, Old Norse 
Poetry), tells how Thor held the dwarf, Alviss, m conversation until 
daybreak, probing his secret wisdom. Dwarfs were also remembered as 

masters of runes and magic songs. 20 , , h 

Dwarfs were said to have strange origins. Snorri t ° ld ho ^ 
quickened as maggots in the flesh of the primeval giant, Ymir, and the 
gods had granted them the wits and shape of men. 

S A passage in the Vglusfia (str. 9), which may be interpolated gives 
another account of the origin of dwarfs. This is obscure and “ ade 
plainer by the numerous textual variants. 22 According to the best 
manuscript, they were fashioned from the blood of Bnmir (the roarer?) 
and the Umbs of Blainn (the black one?). In this case, Bnmir an 
Bliinn may be alternative names for Ymir. The reading °f the four- 
teenth-century Hauksbok is also attractive. According to this, dwarfs 

were formed : 

6 r brimi bl66gu from the bloody surf 

ok 6r Blains leggjum and the limbs of Blainn. 

When Ymir was killed, the sea was made of his blood. 23 

Four dwarfs, Austri, Vestri, Su6ri, NorSri, were said to u Ph° ld 
four corners of the sky, and several allusions to this myth are found 

“Ew in rocks or underground. In the V t luspi (str. 48) they 
are the ‘wise ones of the wall-like rocks’ (veggbergs mm). The Tugling* 
Saga (XII), following the Tnglinga Tal, 25 tells of a mythical king " 
Swedes, who was enticed into a rock by a dwarf, hoping to meet 05mn 
The rock closed behind him and the king was never seen again. The 
place-name Dvergasteinn (Dwarf-stone), recorded both in Norway and 



Iceland, seems to preserve the conception that dwarfs lived in rocks, as 
they were sometimes said to do in later folktale. 26 

Living as they do, dwarfs cannot face the sun. The dwarf Alviss, 
whom Thor held in check until sunrise, was ‘dayed up’ [uppi dagadr). 
This must mean that he was turned to stone by the sun’s rays, as were 
giants, trolls and suchlike rock-dwellers. Probably in irony, Alviss told 
Thor that, while men called the sun sol and gods called it surma, dwarfs 
called it ‘the plaything or playmate of the dwarf, Dvalinn’ [Dvalins 
leika ). 27 

If they are not of the same origin, the dwarfs are hard to distinguish 
from the dark or black elves. Snorri 28 seems to identify the two tribes, 
implying that the dwarfs lived in Svartdlfaheimr (World of Black elves). 
The name Damn is several times applied to a dwarf and once, if the 
reading may be trusted, to an elf. 29 It perhaps means ‘the dead one , 
and dwarfs were not far removed from the dead. The dwarf Alviss had a 
pale nose and looked as if he had spent the night with a corpse. 30 




The Roman historian Tacitus stated that Germans did not confine 
their gods within walls, and did not make images of them, but rather 
consecrated forests and groves, calling by the names of gods that hidden 
power (secretum) which they beheld only with the reverence of their own 
eyes. 1 In another passage Tacitus speaks of the holy forest of the Sem- 
nones, believed to be the abode of the regnator omnium deus (see Ch. II, 
Woden-Wotan, above) . 

These passages show that, among the Germans, the belief in personal, 
but unseen gods was highly developed, and that worship was often 
conducted in the open air, without buildings or idols. Later sources 
also show that open-air worship was widespread. 

It would not, however, be true to say that Germans of this time had 
no temples, for Tacitus himself speaks of the temple ( templum ) of the 
goddess Nerthus (see Ch. VII, Njord, above). In his Annals (1,51) 
Tacitus also mentioned a famous temple, called Tanfana , in the land of 
the Marsi of western Germany, which was levelled by the Romans in 

AD 14. 

The art of building was little developed among Germans of the first 
century, and buildings where large numbers could join in public wor- 
ship were probably few. We may believe that worship was most often 
conducted in the open and especially in groves dedicated to one god or 

It is noteworthy that words used in Germanic languages for place of 
worship’ or 'temple’ often had the meaning ‘grove’ as well. The O.H.G. 
harug is rendered in Latin as fanum, lucus, nemus , and the corresponding 
O.E. hearg, commonly used for ‘temple’ or ‘idol’, also had the meaning 
‘grove’. The O.E. beam and words related to it alternate between such 
meanings as ‘forest, holy grove, temple’. The Gothic alhs (temple) is 
said also to be related to words which mean ‘holy grove’. 2 

The literary sources tell little of the holy places of the continental 
Germans and English in the Dark Ages, although some conception of 
their form may be gained. Penalties are prescribed in late O.E. laws 
against those who establish a fridge ard (or fridsplott) around a tree, stone 



well or other object of superstition. The word f rid gear d evidently means 
a plot of ground, probably marked off by a hedge or fence, within 
which the divine peace must be observed. The ancient laws and history 
of Gotland also mention a stafgardr i probably a sanctified enclosure. 3 

As the knowledge of building developed, temples grew more com- 
mon, and they are frequently mentioned by Christian writers of the 
Middle Ages. 4 The Venerable Bede 5 shows that some of the heathen 
temples in England were sufficiently well built to be converted into 
Christian churches. Bede also describes how the Northumbrian high 
priest, Coifi, after adopting the Christian faith, ordered the temple to 
be destroyed and burnt down together with all its enclosures ( septis ).« 
This description, defective as it is, shows that the temple of Coifi was 
built of timber, and was evidently surrounded by fences or hedges, 
perhaps forming a fridgeard. 

The history of Scandinavia comes to light later than that of England 
or Germany but, even in the last century of paganism, worship was 
conducted in the open, as well as in roofed temples. 

It is told of one of the settlers of Iceland that he brought sacrifice 
to the foss {hann blotadi forsinn), and his home was called at Forsi. Another 
brought sacrifice to a grove ( hann blotadi lundinn ), and his home was 
called at Lundi, 1 Mention is made in the Helgakvida Hundingsbana II 
(str. 27) of a Fjqturlundr or ‘Fetter-grove’, which is reminiscent of the 
sacred grove of the Semnones (see Ch. II, Woden-Wotan above). In the 
Skirnismal (str. 39), the fertility god, Freyr, is said to meet his bride in a 
lundr lognfara or ‘windless grove’ (see Ch. VII). The vikings in Ireland 
established a ‘grove of Thor’ (see Ch. III). 

Sacrifice was also brought to rocks and stones. In the Kristni Saga 
(II) and the Porvalds pattr Vidfqrla (II), which describe the first 
Christian mission to Iceland ( c . 981-5), a chieftain and his family are 
said to bring sacrifice to a rock, which they believed was the home of 
their patron. The patron is designated in one text as armadr , the one 
who assures prosperity and good harvests ; and in the other as spdmadr 
(prophet). According to a Norwegian law, 8 it was a pagan super- 
stition to believe that elemental spirits {landvattir) dwelt in groves, 
mounds ( haugar ) and waterfalls. 

The texts last quoted show that we have to do, not with nature- 
worship, or worship of natural objects themselves, but rather with the 
worship of gods or supernatural beings, who dwelt in the waterfall, the 
rock or grove, as the regnator omnium deus dwelt in the grove of the Sem- 

The place-names of Scandinavia 9 provide rich evidence of sanctuaries 
and holy places. They were often out of doors, and the words vangr, vin, 




akr (meadow, cornfield) were applied to them, as well as haugr (mound) . 
The name Forsetalundr, in eastern Norway, may preserve memory of a 
grove dedicated to Forseti, son of Baldr. 10 

Ve was among the words commonly used for a sanctuary in early 
times. 11 It is found as an element in place-names, particularly in those 
of Sweden and Denmark, e.g. Visby, Viborg, and it is often compounded 
with names of gods, as in Odense (older Odinsve ) , Harnevi, Ullavi. Ve is 
also a common element in personal names. The Landndmabok 12 tells of a 
man of Sogn (West Norway), whose name was Geir, but he was 
known as Vegeirr because he was particularly devout in religious prac- 
tices. His sons and daughters all bore names beginning with Ve-. 

The noun ve is related to the verb vigja (to consecrate), 13 and it 
seems often to be applied to a consecrated place separated from the 
profane world around it. It is thus comparable with the O.E .fridgeard. 
In the Gutnish text mentioned above, ve ( wi ) is named together with 
stafgardr and hull (grove) among objects in which the islanders had 
placed their faith in days of old. 

Sagas, poetry and laws of Iceland and Norway give clearer ideas of 
the way in which the word vi was used by heathen Scandinavians. In 
the lays of the Edda it is applied to dwellings of the holy gods, as in the 
phrases ve goda , vS valiiva. Such expressions probably reflect the oldest 
use of the word as a religious term; the divine beings were thought to 
be present in the sacred place, at least on ceremonial occasions. As 
Snorri 14 uses this word, it is synonymous with gridastadr , a holy place in 
which no violence might be done. One who shed blood in the ve was 
deemed an outcast, a criminal, or a wolf in holy places ( vargr i veum). 
Among the names of Thor is Venn , which probably means servant or 
guardian of the holy place’. 

Like the fridgeard or stafgardr, the ve was probably enclosed by a fence 
or hedge, The sources also mention vebqnd, evidently ropes which en- 
closed judicial courts while they were sitting. The following description 
is given in the Egils Saga (LVI) of a court in Norway in the tenth 
century : 

In the place where the court was held there was a level field, and hazel 
poles were fixed in it forming a circle, and ropes were placed around them 
on the outside ; these were called vebqnd. Inside the circle sat the judges, 
twelve from FirQafylki, twelve from Sygnafylki and twelve from HdrSafylki. 
These three dozen men were to adjudicate in people’s lawsuits. 

Since the administration of law was partly a religious function, it is 
not rash to conclude that the ‘holy ropes’ ( vibqnd ) marked off the sacred 
place from the profane. The duel ( holmganga ) , which also had a religious 


basis, was fought within an area marked out with poles {hqslur) and, as 
it seems, ropes. 16 

Like other words which originally meant no more than a sacred place 
in the open, ve came later to mean a building in which sacrifice was 
offered, although passages in literature in which the word is used in 
this sense are few. 16 

The word hqrgr (rarely fern, hqrg) was also applied to places of wor- 
ship, and it is found as an element in place-names over a fairly large 
area, although chiefly in Iceland and the west. As noted above, the 
O.E. and German equivalents of this word (O.E. hearg, O.H.G. harug, 
etc) were sometimes used for ‘sacred grove’, but the O.N. hqrgr is not 
recorded with that meaning. It is sometimes applied to a pile of stones 
set up in the open as an altar. In the poem Hyndluljod (str. 10), the 
goddess Freyja is made to say of her favourite, Ottar : 

hprg hann mer g 0 rdi 
hladinn steinum, 
mi er grjot j)at 
at gleri orSit ; 
rau5 hann at nyju 
nauta bI65i ; 
as truSi Ottarr 
a dsynjur. 

he raised a hqrgr for me, 
piled with stones ; 
now all that rock 
has turned to glass ; 
he reddened it anew 
with blood of oxen ; 
always Ottar put faith 
in goddesses (dsynjur). 

The goddess implies that by smearing the plain rock with the blood 
of sacrifice, Ottar had turned it into precious glass. In a' manuscript of 
the Heidreks Saga (I). it is similarly told how the daughter of a 
legendary King Alf of Alfheimar reddened the hqrgr ( raud hqrginn) 
during a sacrifice to the guardian spirits ( disablot ) . 

The Landndmabok 17 contains a story about a woman settler, Aud the 
Deep-minded, who came to Iceland from Ireland. Aud was a Christian 
and, beside her house, she set up crosses on some hillocks called Kross- 
holar , where she performed her devotions. When Aud was dead, her 
relations, who were heathen, erected a hqrg (fern.) by the hillocks, for 
they had great faith in them, and believed that they would go into them 
when they died. 

If the hqrgr was, at one time, a stone pile, the word came later to be 
applied to roofed temples. In some of the lays of the Edda , the hqrgr is 
said to be constructed with lofty timbers ( hdtimbradr ) and sometimes it 
is said to burn. 18 Snorri 19 must think of a substantial building when he 
writes of the hqrgr, Vingolf set up for goddesses ( gydjur ), describing it as a 
splendid house ( allfagrt hus ) . Early Norwegian laws 20 also showed that 

the hqrgr was a complete building, laying down that anyone who raised 




a building (Mr) and called it a hgrgr should forfeit every penny he had. 

Excavations made in Iceland in recent times help to show the form 
of the hgrgr at the end of the pagan period. At Horgsdal, 21 in the north 
of the island, a small rectangular building, c. io m X 6 m was un- 
covered and was evidently roofed and supported by pillars. Another 
structure, uncovered at Horgsholt in the south-west, measured only 
about 5 m X 1 £. 

Passages already quoted from Hyndluljod, Heidreks Saga and Snorri’s 
Edda have suggested to some that the hqrgr belonged especially to the 
cult of goddesses. This may well have been the case at the end of the 
pagan period, but it cannot have been so in earlier times. Place-names, 
such as Odinshargher, Thorshargher, in Sweden, show that hqrgar were also 
dedicated to gods. 

Nevertheless, excavations, place-names, even allusions in literature 
and law, suggest that in later times the hgrgr was a small temple or 
shrine, perhaps used chiefly for private or family worship. The cult of 
the disk and of other female divinities was generally on a smaller scale 
and more private than that of the gods and it may, therefore, have been 
conducted in simple shrines, and in unpretentious buildings. 

The word most commonly used for a temple or sacred building in the 
sagas is hoj \ and it is interesting to note that this word is rarely used by 
scalds, and never occurs with the meaning ‘temple 5 in the poetry of the 
Edda except in such alliterative doublets as hgrgr ok hoj. 

The element hoj occurs seldom in the place-names of Sweden and 
Denmark, but it is common in those of Iceland, where it appears both 
as a simplex and as the first element in compounds, e.g. Hoj \ Hofstadir , 
Hofteigr. It is also common in many parts of Norway, and is often com- 
pounded with names of gods, e.g. Porshof Freyshof. 

Both the use of hof in literature and its distribution in place-names 
suggest that it was not applied to temples until the last centuries of 

Literature and archaeology give only hazy ideas of the forms of 
places of worship designated by such terms as ve, hgrgr, but the hof is, in 
one passage, described in precise detail. It is told in the Eyrbyggja Saga 
how Thorolf Mostrarskegg, a chieftain of south-western Norway, emi- 
grated to Iceland rather than submit to the tyranny of Harald Fine- 
hair. Thorolf was a devout man, placing his trust in Thor. Before he 
left his home, he took down the temple, shipping the timbers, as well as 
the soil beneath the altar, upon which the idol of Thor had stood. He 
sailed by the south coast of Iceland and, as he passed Reykjanes, he 
hurled overboard the main pillars (qndvegissulur) of his temple, one of 
which carried the graven image of Thor. Thorolf resolved to settle at 


the place where these pillars should drift ashore, and he made land in a 
creek on Snaefellsnes, afterwards called Hofsvdgr (Temple-creek). Soon 
afterwards he found his pillars on a headland nearby, which he called 
Porsnes (Thor’s ness). He set up a farm near the creek, which was called 
Hofstadir (Temple-steads), and beside it he erected a temple (hof), 
which he dedicated to his patron, Thor. The temple is described in 
the saga (Ch. IV) : 

He had a temple built, and it was a mighty building. There was a doorway 
in the side-wall, nearer to the one end, and inside stood the main pillars 
(■ Qndvegissulur ) in which nails were set, called ‘divine nails’ ( reginnaglar ). 
Within there was a great sanctuary. Further in there was an apartment of the 
same form as the chancel in churches nowadays, and there was a pedestal in 
the middle of the floor there like an altar, and upon it lay an armring with- 
out joint, weighing twenty ounces, and all oaths must be sworn upon it. The 
temple-priest (hofgodi) must wear this ring on his arm at all public gatherings. 
The sacrificial bowl (hlautbolU) must stand on the pedestal, and there was a 
sacrificial twig in it, like an aspergillum ( stgkkull ) and with it the blood, which 
was called hlaut, should be sprinkled from the bowl. This was blood of the 
kind shed when beasts were slaughtered as a sacrifice to the gods. The idols 
were arranged in this apartment around the pillar. 

The authenticity of this description of the temple on Snasfellsnes has 
been questioned. 22 It seems probable, however, that it derives from a 
learned note written early in the twelfth century by Ari or one of his 
contemporaries. Snorri also described a temple in Thr&ndheim in the 
reign of Hakon the Good (died c. 960), and probably drew partly on 
the same source. 23 

The site of the temple described in the Eyrbyggja Saga was Hofstadir 
(Temple-steads). This is not an unusual place-name in Iceland, and it 
is not necessary to suppose that every place to which it was applied was 
the site of a temple. Nevertheless, three of the four Hofstadir named in 
the Landndmabok were remembered as sites of temples or places of wor- 
ship. Not all the Hofstadir are named in early documents, but among 
those whose names survive today is one close to lake Myvatn, in the 
north of Iceland. Tradition recorded in the nineteenth century had it 
that this was the site of a temple. It was excavated in 1908, and the 
remains of a ship-shaped building, c. 44 m x 8 m, were uncovered. 
This building was divided into two compartments, a large hall with 
benches running from end to end, capable of seating about 150 men, 
and a smaller compartment to the north, corresponding with the 
chancel (sqnghus) mentioned in the Eyrbyggja , 24 

Some have doubted whether this building was really a temple. 25 Its 




great size shows that it was used for public gatherings, although it 
might have been used for profane as well as religious purposes. 

In form, the building at HofstaQir was not unlike the houses of the 
langhus type. 26 This could imply that the religious architecture was 
based on the profane, or the profane on the religious. In fact, the de- 
scription given in the Eyrbyggja and the ruins at HofstSir suggest that, 
in the tenth century, the hof resembled a Christian church, and its form 
was probably modelled on that of western European churches of the 
period. The hof, in its turn, is believed by some to have influenced the 
form of stave churches of the Middle Ages, culminating in such fantastic 
beauty as the church of Borgund of the twelfth century. 27 

Historical literature sheds light on the place of the hof in the social 
and political organization of pagan Iceland. It is said in versions of the 
Landnamabok , 28 as well as in other sources, that, under the pagan law, 
an arm-ring weighing not less than two ounces {aurar) must be kept on 
an altar {stalli) in every main or public temple ( kgfudhof ), and the godi 
must wear it on his arm at legal assemblies. Those who had business to 
transact, prosecuting, defending, or bearing witness, must swear an oath 
on this ring. 

At the end of this same passage in the Landndmabok a note is added 
on the distribution of public temples. When Iceland was divided into 
Quarters (Fjordungar ) , about 963, there were to be three parishes 
(. pingsoknir ) in each Quarter, and three public temples in each parish. 
There were, in fact, four parishes in the northern Quarter, although 
three in each of the others, and perhaps there were twelve public 
temples there. There must, therefore, have been thirty-six or thirty- 
nine public temples in Iceland, besides private ones, or ‘temples of 
ease’. Property owners were obliged to pay dues (hoftollar) to the 
temples, as they afterwards paid tithes to the Church. 

It is evident from such records as these that temples filled an im- 
portant place in the political and social, as well as in the religious life of 
heathen Iceland. 

In Norway, during the Viking Age, the name hof perhaps replaced 
some of the older names for temples and holy places, such as ve, hqrgr , 
vin, which survived as designations of places of worship of a more 
primitive kind. It has been shown in studies of the religious place-names 
of Norway that, at the end of the pagan period, the hof was a central 
place of worship, 29 as it was in Iceland. It is indeed remarkable how 
many Christian churches of Norway stood on or next to places called 
Hof Either public temples were converted into churches, or else the 
temples were destroyed and churches built in their place. 

Literary sources show that some of the temples were greater and more 



splendid than others. Snorri describes a particularly glorious one at 
Hladir, in Thrandheim, destroyed by King Olaf Tryggvason, and 
another at Mterin (inner Thrandheim) destroyed by the same king. 30 
Another famous temple was that of GuSbrand of Dalar, in central 
Norway. 31 

The most glorious of all Scandinavian temples, and perhaps the 
latest, was at Uppsala in Sweden. This was described by the German 
chronicler, Adam of Bremen (see Ch. I), 32 and some additional notes 
were appended to the description shortly after it was written, whether 
by Adam himself or another. Uppsala was the last bastion of northern 
heathendom, and the temple was evidently still in use when Adam 
wrote his magnificent description. His words may be summarized : 

Ch. XXVI : this nation has a most splendid temple called Ubsola, standing 
not far from the city of Sictona (or Birka) . In this temple, totally adorned 
with gold, the people worship statues of three gods ; the most mighty of them, 
Th6r, has his throne in the middle ; Wodan and Fricco have their place on 
either side. Their significance is of this kind : ‘Th6r’, they say, ‘rules in the 
sky, and governs thunder, lightning, the winds, rain, fair weather and pro- 
duce of the soil.’ The second is Wodan, i.e. ‘Rage’ {furor ) ; he makes wars and 
gives man bravery in face of enemies. The third is Fricco, distributing peace 
and pleasure among men, whose idol is fashioned with a gigantic ‘priapus’. 
Wodan they depict armed, as our people depict Mars. Th6r, with his 
sceptre, seems to resemble Jove. They also worship gods whom they have 
made from men and consign to immortality because of great deeds. In the 
Life of St Anskar, so it is recorded, they made Eirik (Hericus) a god. 33 
Ch. XXVIII : They have priests assigned to all these gods to perform the 
offerings of the people. If there is danger of pestilence or famine, sacrifice is 
offered to the idol Th6r, if of war to Wodan ; if marriage is to be celebrated 
they offer to Fricco. 

It is the practice, every nine years, to hold a communal festival in Ubsola 
for all the provinces of Sueonia. No exemption from this festival is allowed. 
The kings and the people, communally and separately, send gifts and, most 
cruel of all, those who have embraced Christianity buy themselves off from 
these festivities. 

The sacrifice is performed thus: nine head of every living male creature 
are offered, and it is the custom to placate the gods with the blood of these. 
The bodies are hung in a grove which stands beside the temple. This grove 
is so holy for the heathens that each of the separate trees is believed to be 
divine because of the death and gore of the objects sacrificed ; there dogs and 
horses hang together with men. One of the Christians ( aliquis Christianorum ) 
told me that he had seen seventy- two bodies hanging together. For the rest, 
the incantations which they are accustomed to sing at this kind of sacrificial 
rite are manifold and disgraceful, and therefore it is better to be silent about 


The marginal notes add some details to the description. According 
to the first of them (No. 138) : 

Beside this temple stands an enormous tree, spreading its branches far and 
wide ; it is ever green, in winter as in summer. No one knows what kind of 
tree this is. There is also a well there, where heathen sacrifices are com- 
monly performed, and a living man is plunged into it. If he is not found 
again, it is deemed that the will of the people will be fulfilled. 

According to the second of these notes (No. 139) : 

A golden chain surrounds the temple, hanging over the gables ( fastigia ) of 
the building, glowing brilliantly towards those who approach, for the temple 
itself stands in a plain, with hills around it in the likeness of a theatre. 

A third note (No. 141) may also be quoted: 

For nine days the festivities with sacrifices of this kind are held. Every day 
they offer one man together with other animals, so that in nine days it makes 
seventy-two living things which are sacrificed. 

This description is not that of an eye-witness. Parts of it, at least, must 
come from Adam’s Christian informant, aliquis Christianorum among the 
Swedes, and parts may even be third or fourth hand. 

The description, splendid as it is, is not clear in every detail, and 
archaeologists have not agreed about it. The most puzzling feature is 
the golden chain {catena), glowing above the gables. Some authorities 
suggest that, in this, Adam was inspired by the description of the temple 
of Solomon (II Chron. 3,15-16) : 

Also he made before the house two pillars of thirty and five cubits high, and 
the chapiter that was on the top of each of them was five cubits. 

And he made chains, as in the oracle, and put them on the heads of the 
pillars ; and he made an hundred pomegranates, and put them on the chains. 

The description of Solomon’s temple was frequently used as a text by 
medieval homilists, 34 and Adam must certainly have known it. But it is 
unlikely that he was inspired only by this text when he wrote of the 
temple of Uppsala. More probably he tried to equate what he had 
heard about the temple of Uppsala with what he had read about the 
temple of Solomon, and that is why he thought that the glowing deco- 
rations over the roof of the temple of Uppsala must have been a chain 

S. Lindquist, 38 in a brilliant study, suggested that the description 
was that of one who had seen the temple from a distance, and mistook a 





gilded frieze, perhaps running between animal-headed pinnacles, for a 
chain. His argument is supported by comparison with stave-churches 
and early relic shrines of Sweden and Norway. 

Archaeologists have not agreed on the form of this temple, but it is 
commonly believed that it was built of timbers and supported by two 
rows of pillars, standing on the site of the present church of Old Upp- 
sala. Excavations made in 1927, when the church was restored, suggest 
that the temple was rectangular, and considerably longer than the 
present church. 

Although we can know little about the appearance of the temple, 
except that it was large, timber-built, rectangular and garish, Adam’s 
description contains many points of vital interest. It is as if centuries 
of heathen belief and practice had silted in this Swedish backwater. 

The grove beside the building, sanctified by the blood of man and 
beast, was as holy as that in Germany, where the regnator omnium deus 
dwelt at the time of Tacitus, holy as, on a smaller scale, was the grove 
in the north of Iceland to which the settler used to bring his sacrifice. 
One tree was holier than all the others ; it was evergreen like the ash 
Yggdrasill. In some ways it resembled the great column, Irminsul 
which, as the Saxons believed, upheld the universe. We may think also 
of Glasir, 36 the grove with golden foliage standing before the doors of 
Valholl, and of the tree growing from unknown roots on which OSinn 
swung in his death-agony. The temple itself, glowing with gold, is like 
Valholl, whose roof glowed with gilded shields. 

The sacred well is reminiscent of the mystical Urdarbrunnr (Well of 
Fate), in which Odinn sacrificed his eye, and of that beside the temple 
of Fosite on the Frisian island. 37 The man drowning in the well may 
remind us of the slaves drowning after washing Nerthus, and of the 
blotgrafar and blotkelda mentioned in later Icelandic sagas. 38 We may 
even think of the settler in Iceland, who hurled sacrifice into the water- 
fall, evidently to please the deities who dwelt in it. 

Adam, in his account of the temple, mentions three idols, repre- 
senting Thor, Wodan and Fricco. The last name has caused some diffi- 
culty, but it is commonly agreed that it is a name for Freyr. 39 Although 
little is known about the form of idols, it is often stated, both in records 
of missionaries on the Continent and in Icelandic sagas that they stood 
three together. 40 Bede 41 speaks of idols of stone as well as of wood, while 
Icelandic writers suggest that those in the temples were mostly of wood, 
calling them tregod , skurdgod. 

The Eyrrbyggja Saga relates that, in the temple on Sneefellsnes, the 
idols were placed around an altar ( stalli ) in the ‘chancel’, and idols 
kept in the temples of Iceland are mentioned in several other texts, 


which deserve to be quoted, although they must be treated with re- 
serve. In the temple on Kjalarnes, 42 it is said, Thor stood in the middle 
with idols of other gods on each side, but the author of this text may well 
have been influenced by Adam’s description of the temple at Uppsala. 
An even less trustworthy text 43 mentioned a temple in the south of Ice- 
land dedicated to the goddess Thorgerd Horgarbrud, in which there 
were images of many gods. 

The descriptions of idols in Norway are richer, although hardly more 
trustworthy, and many of them bear the stamp of clerical fantasy. An 
idol of Thor in central Norway is described by Snorri. 44 He was heavily 
decked with gold and silver, of enormous size, hollow and standing on 
a platform. Every day he was fed with four loaves of bread and meat. 
When, in an unguarded moment, one of St Olaf ’s servants struck him 
with a club, he fell into fragments. Out of him jumped toads, snakes, 
and rats so well nourished that they were as big as cats. This descrip- 
tion is found, in substantially similar words, in the Legendary Saga of 
the Saint. If apocryphal, it is at least old. 

Another tale is told of an idol of Freyr in Thrandheim. 46 This one is 
described as a wooden man ( tremabr ), made by human hands. Whatever 
the heathens may have thought, the idol was not Freyr himself. When 
the god-king Freyr died in Sweden, the Swedes had carved two wooden 
men, and put them into the howe to keep Freyr company. They were 
afterwards dug up and one of them was sent to Thrdndheim where he 
was worshipped. 

There is a more interesting tale about another idol of Freyr in 
Sweden, probably at Uppsala. This is found in the Story of Gunnar 
Helming, 46 already quoted (see Ch. VII, above). Gunnar, who had 
fled from Norway to Sweden, took refuge in the house or temple of 
Freyr, placing himself under the protection of Freyr’s ‘wife’. It was the 
fugitive’s task to lead the horse, while the idol and his bride were car- 
ried in ceremonial procession through the provinces, assuring the fer- 
tility of the crops. When he grew tired of walking, Gunnar jumped into 
the chariot, where the animated idol fell upon him. After a hard 
struggle, Gunnar turned his mind to King Glaf Tryggvason, and the 
mightier god whom he worshipped. Then the demon jumped out of 
the idol, and there was nothing left but a block of wood. 

Foreign analogues of this story have been noticed, 47 but it preserves 
some genuine features of tradition, memories of the pre-eminence of the 
cult of Freyr in Sweden, of the wooden idol of the fertility god con- 
veyed ceremonially in a chariot to promote the growth of the crops. 48 
Not the least striking feature is the animated idol, severe and reticent, 
but well able to talk and wrestle. 



Not all idols were kept in temples. Olaf Tryggvason’s favourite poet, 
Hallfred, 49 was accused of keeping an ivory image of Thor in his purse, 
and worshipping it secretly. Ingimund the Old, who settled in northern 
Iceland, kept a silver image of Freyr. 50 

Amulets of this kind might be called hlutir. While all the great idols 
have perished, some of these are preserved. (See Plates 13-16.) Among 
them is the bronze image of a bearded man, sitting on a chair, and clasp- 
ing an object like a hammer. This image, found in Iceland, probably 
dates from the tenth century, and may well represent Thor. Another, 
pronouncedly erotic figure, was found at Rallinge, in south-eastern 
Sweden, and may represent Freyr. 51 It could be regarded as a miniature 
of the great ithyphallic idol of Fricco (Freyr) in the temple of Uppsala. 
Among many bracteats of gold and silver, which appear to have religious 
significance, is one from Froysland, in south-western Norway, which may 
represent the sacred marriage of Freyr with his wife Gerd. 52 Many 
metal images of Thor’s hammer, suitable to wear on clothing or to 
carry in the purse, have also been found in Sweden, especially in the 
region ofBirka. 53 (See Plates 17-18.) 

The Oseberg and Gokstad finds provide ample evidence of artistry in 
wood, and many of the carved figures found in these tombs must have a 
religious meaning. 54 In the Great Saga of Olaf Tryggvason, the image 
of Thor is said to be worn on the prow of a warship. 55 In the same way, 
images of gods were carved on the main pillars of a temple and prob- 
ably of other buildings, as well as on chair-posts. 56 Pillars bearing such 
images were not lifeless, but animate. When Thorolf Mostrarskegg cast 
his pillars overboard, they sped quickly over the waves, guiding him 
to the place where he should make his home. 

Scenes from the lives of gods provided favourite motives for wood- 
carvers and painters of the late pagan period. Although this is nowhere 
stated, we can hardly doubt that work of this kind adorned temples as 
well as dwelling-houses. Olaf the Peacock, who built his house at 
Hjardarholt in western Iceland late in the tenth century, had panels 
and rafters carved with pictures of mythical scenes. 67 A well-known 
poet described the pictures in a lay. 58 Among the scenes depicted was 
the cremation of Baldr ; Freyr was seen riding on his boar, and Odinn, 
mounted on his horse, was followed by valkyries and ravens. On another 
panel, Thor was seen struggling against the World Serpent. Fragments 
of verse dating from even earlier time are preserved, in which poets 
acknowledge the gift of an ornamental shield, and describe the mythical 
scenes, carved or painted, with which it is decorated. 59 

Mythical scenes were also carved on stone, and some of the finest 
examples belong to the end of the pagan period, or even to the time 



when Christianity blended with heathendom, as it must have done in 
the minds of artists of the early eleventh century in Cumberland and 
Man, 60 when they carved images of Thor and other pagan gods beside 
Christian symbols. Many carved stones of the pagan period found in 
Sweden and especially in Gotland also contain scenes from the lives of 
gods. 61 

Pictures, painted or carved in relief, may not be idols although, like 
Christian icons, they must have been objects of veneration, and they 
show that artists thought of gods in human form. But anthropomorphic 
figures were not the only ones venerated. Allusions in this chapter have 
shown that sacrifice was taken to wells, waterfalls, trees. Under the 
Christian law of Norway, 62 it was forbidden to keep a stick {staff) in one’s 
house and venerate it, a practice probably to be associated with the cult 
of the supporting pillar ( qndvegissula ) . The cult of stones and rocks is also 
prohibited under the law of Swedish Uppland. 63 In the Icelandic in- 
stance of this practice quoted above (p. 237), it could be seen that the 
rock was venerated, not for itself, but because it was the dwelling of a 
tutelary divinity. 

Animals were also venerated. Floki, who explored Iceland before it 
was settled, sacrificed to three ravens, who guided him on his way. 64 
Hakon the Great (died 995), after he had been forcibly baptized, re- 
verted to heathendom. He held a sacrifice and two ravens flew croaking 
over his head, showing that Odinn had accepted the sacrifice. 65 Snorri 66 
wrote of a king in Norway who offered sacrifice to a cow {blit ku eina) 
and took her wherever he went. Others were said to venerate magni- 
ficent boars {sonar geltir), swearing oaths on their bristles. 67 The beast 
most commonly venerated was the horse, or stallion, whose flesh pro- 
vided the dish at sacrificial banquets. Brand, a man of northern Ice- 
land, kept a horse called Faxi (the maned one), and had ‘faith’ {atrunadr) 
in him, 68 while Hrafnkell shared his favourite stallion with Frevr. 69 We 
read also of a stud of horses in Norway belonging to this god. 70 

Ravens, cattle, boars, horses are not worshipped for themselves, any 
more than the rock mentioned on p. 237 was worshipped for itself. The 
raven who guides the seafarer represents or embodies a god, whether 
Odinn or another, and conveys his wisdom to man. Sacred horses 
among Germans described by Tacitus 71 were regarded as the mouth- 
piece of gods, and oracles were divined from their snorting and neigh- 
ing. The divinity might even be transferred to the phallus of a dead 
horse which, venerated and called a god, embodies the force of a god of 
fertility. 72 

Stories of this kind, although known chiefly from Christian writers, 
help to show how pagans thought of idols and venerated objects. When 



the idol moved, benevolently or in anger, he was ‘possessed’, as heathens 
might say, by the god, but as Christians thought, by the demon, who is 
for them the heathen god. 

It is partly because the idol is venerated and sacrifice brought to it, 
that it incorporates the god. A story told in the Great Saga of Olaf 
Tryggvason illustrates this. An island off the coast of Norway was 
occupied by a certain Raud, who kept a temple dedicated to Thor. 73 
Raud was most assiduous in his attentions to the idol {him mesti blotmadr ) ; 
he bestowed such sacrifice upon it that he gave it strength (• magnaSi ). 
The demon talked out of the image ( likneski , skurgod), and it used to 
walk with Raud out of doors. 

In the story quoted above (p. 237) from the Kristni Saga and the 
Porvalds Pattr, it was because sacrifice was taken to the rock that the 
‘demon’ within it had power to assure prosperity and to tell the future. 
When respect was no longer paid to him and, instead of sacrifice, holy 
water was poured on the rock, the demon lost his power, and made off 
dressed in a miserable leather jerkin, instead of the fine clothes which he 
had worn before. In other words, when sacrifice is withdrawn, the rock 
is no longer the residence of the god, and he retires, dejected and im- 



Passages cited in the last chapter, and especially those from the 
Eyrbyggja Saga and from Adam’s Gesta shed light on the modes of sacri- 
fice and on the objects sacrificed. Some further details are given by 
Snorri in his life of Hakon the Good, 1 who also tells something of the 
purpose of sacrifice. 

According to Snorri, all farmers of Thrandheim had to attend sacri- 
fice in the temple (hqf), taking such provisions as they needed while the 
sacrificial feast lasted, and all must join in the ceremonial beer-drinking. 
Cattle, horses and other domestic beasts were slaughtered, and their 
blood, called hlaut, was sprinkled on the altars and on the inner and 
outer walls of the temple, as well as upon the congregation. The meat 
was boiled, fires burned in the middle of the floor and cauldrons were 
suspended above them. The sacrificial cup was passed over the fire, and 
the chieftain would consecrate {signa) this as well as the sacrificial food. 
First of all the toast of Odinn was drunk for victory and for the success 
{rikis) of the King, and then the toasts of Njord and Freyr were drunk 
for fruitful harvest and for peace {til ars ok fridar) . After this the company 
drank the bragafull , and then toasts in memory {minni) of their kinsmen 
who lay buried in howes. 2 

The provenance of this passage has been much discussed, 8 but it is 
probable that Snorri was following a learned note like that which the 
author of the Eyrbyggja Saga followed when he described the temple of 
Thor on Snaefellsnes. 4 

A little later in this same saga (XV-XVIII), Snorri tells how the 
half- Christian king, Hakon, was compelled by his subjects to take 
part in the heathen feast. Reluctant as he was, he was forced to drink the 
toasts and to eat the horse-liver. 

The meaning of the sacrificial feast, as Snorri saw it, is fairly plain. 
When blood was sprinkled over altars and men and the toasts were 
drunk, men were symbolically joined with gods of war and fertility, 
and with their dead ancestors, sharing their mystical powers. This is a 
form of communion. 

But forms of sacrifice unlike these are described. Gifts are brought to 





gods in the hope that they will give a reward. A gift always looks for its 
return and, consequently, it is not wise to pester the gods with too much 
sacrifice. 5 

The purpose of a sacrifice of this kind may be deduced from the story 
quoted from the Viga-Glums Saga (Ch. II, Cult of Odinn). After 
Thorkell the Tall had been expelled from the region of Thveri 
(northern Iceland), he entered the temple of Freyr, leading an aged 
ox. 4 “Freyr”, said he, “you who have long been my patron, and ac- 
cepted many gifts and repaid them well, now I give (gef) you this ox, 
so that Glum may leave the land of Thvera no less compelled than I 
leave it now. Let some sign be seen whether you accept or reject it” \ 
The ox was so moved that he bellowed and dropped dead. Thorkell 
felt that it had turned out well, and he was now easier in mind, feeling 
that his prayer had been heard. 

It is not told in this passage how the fugitive disposed of the carcass 
of the ox ; he says only that he 'gives’ him to the god. The same could be 
said of those who hurl sacrifice over a cliff or into a well or waterfall, 6 
and no less positively in cases of human sacrifice. 

It is improbable that human sacrifice was practised widely in the 
Viking Age, but classical authors frequently allude to it among con- 
tinental Germans. Tacitus (Germ. IX) states that while Hercules and 
Mars were placated with animal sacrifice, human sacrifice was given to 
Mercury, who may be identified with Odinn. The same author (Germ. 
XXXIX) tells how a man used to be sacrificed in the holy grove of the 

It is often told that prisoners of war were given to the gods, and this 
was probably regarded as thanksgiving for victory. After a battle the 
priestesses of the Cimbri would meet the prisoners in camp, crown them 
and conduct them to an enormous cauldron. The priestesses would then 
mount a ladder, and cut the throat of each prisoner as he was passed up, 
foretelling the future from the gushing blood. 7 A scene similar to this is 
depicted on the splendid Gundestrup bowl (see Plate 45). Although 
found in Denmark, this is commonly regarded as Celtic work, 8 and it 
is said that this form of sacrifice was Celtic rather than Germanic, but it 
should not be forgotten that Norsemen could also foretell the future 
from sacrificial blood. 9 

The Goths, according to Jordanes (Getica V), sacrificed prisoners of 
war to Mars, believing that the god of war was suitably placated with 
human blood. Procopius says of the men of Thule that they offered the 
first prisoner taken in battle to Ares. Not only was the sacrifice bloody, 
but the men of Thule would hang the victim on a tree, or cast him 
among thorns. 10 

Vernacular sources tell something about human sacrifice and its 
meaning in the north. It is said in the history of the Gotlanders, 11 a 
work of the thirteenth century, that the heathens of Gotland used to 
sacrifice their sons and daughters as well as cattle. 

The significance of human sacrifice is often obscure. The supreme 
sacrifice was that of the King, and instances of this were cited in Ch. IX 
above. When the crops failed, the Swedes slaughtered their king, 
Domaldi, and reddened the altars with his blood, or, as the Historia 
Jforvegiae 12 has it, they hanged him as a sacrifice to Geres, who was 
probably Freyja. Snorri tells later how the Swedes, in time of famine, 
burnt their king as a sacrifice to Odinn (see Ch. IX, above). 

As suggested in Ch. IX, the King is the representative of the god ; it is 
not even extravagant to say that he incorporates the god, whether 
Freyr or another. The sacrifice takes place in autumn, the time when 
sacrifice was offered to the fertility-god Freyr and to the disk (see Ch. XI 
above). Are we to suppose that the god, whether in the form of king, 
man, horse or boar, was slaughtered in the autumn in the hope that he 
would revive with the spring? 13 

Stories already quoted show that sacrificial victims were sometimes 
hanged. This is confirmed by the Arab scientist, Ibn Rustah, who 
wrote of practices of Scandinavians in Russia in the tenth century. 14 
The wizards (or priests) decided what should be sacrificed, whether 
women, men or cattle. Once they had reached their decision it was irre- 
vocable, and the wizard would take the victim, man or beast, tie a 
noose round its neck and hang it on a pole, saying : ‘this is an offering 
to god’. 

It might well be thought that sacrifice by hanging was a sacrifice to 
Odinn, who was himself god of the hanged (hanga-Tyr) and the ‘gallows 
load’ (galga farmr ) , and often the recipient of human sacrifice. Such a 
conception might be confirmed by the story of King Vfkar, who was 
hanged at the demand of Odinn (see Ch. II, above). Ares and Mars, for 
whom the people of Thule and the Goths hanged men and armour 
might be identified with Odinn, but Odinn need not be the only god for 
whom victims were hanged. It was noted that a king of the Swedes 
was said to be hanged as a sacrifice to Ceres. According to a passage 
quoted from Adam of Bremen in the preceding chapter, men and vic- 
tims of many kinds were to be seen hanging together in the holy grove 
of Uppsala. Odinn was worshipped at Uppsala at the time at which 
Adam wrote, but it is doubtful whether he ever ranked high in the 
hierarchy of the agricultural Swedes. 

It is by no means certain that all the victims who swung from trees 
were executed by the noose. The descriptions given by Adam and 





Procopius might rather suggest that they were strung up after they 
were dead, and that the precious blood was sprinkled beforehand. 15 

Sacrifice, whether of man or beast, took many forms. At Uppsala, as 
already noted, victims were sunk in a well, and the slaves who washed 
the goddess Nerthus were drowned after the ceremony. In the preceding 
chapter I mentioned blotkeldur and blot gr afar recorded in Icelandic sagas 
and place-names. These were perhaps wells and morasses in which 
gifts, animate and inanimate, might be immersed. 

In recent years a number of bodies in a good state of preservation 
have been dug up in the moors of Jutland. These are believed to date 
from about the beginning of our era, and some had, apparently, first 
been hanged and then sunk in the bog. 16 

Victims could be thrown over cliffs. The Gautreks Saga (I-II), 
which certainly incorporates some valid traditions, describes a form of 
ritual suicide. In times of famine, men and women of Gautland would 
hurl themselves over the Family Cliff ( /Etternisstapi ) , believing that they 
would go to Valholl. Remarkably strong support for this is found in 
later Swedish traditions; 17 In the Hrafnkels Saga (VI), the horse, 
Freyfaxi, was pushed over a cliff into a pool below. The slaughterer 
said : fit is right that he who owns him should receive him.’ This story, 
apocryphal as it must be, is supported by Norwegian traditions, 18 and 
might be regarded as a travesty of a sacrifice to Freyr. 

Men could be sacrificed in the same way as the horse, Freyfaxi. 
When the acceptance of Christianity was debated at the Althingi 
(Great Assembly) in Iceland in the year ad iooo, adherents of the 
Christian party said : ‘heathens sacrifice the worst men, hurling them 
over rocks or cliffs’. 19 

Statements like the last quoted might suggest that sacrificial victims 
were criminals, and that the death-penalty had a sacral meaning. This 
may be supported by the Eyrbyggja Saga (X) and the Landnamabok , 
where it is said that men were ‘sentenced to sacrifice’ ( dazmdir til blots , 
skyldu til blots dcetna ) , and their backs were broken on a stone, evidently 
to placate the god Thor. Criminals were certainly used for sacrifice, but 
it does not follow that the death-penalty was, in origin, sacrificial. It 
could well be that criminals and ‘the worst men’, rather than kings or 
priests, were used as victims in later times, when the significance of the 
sacrifice had faded. 20 

A peculiarly revolting form of human sacrifice was that of cutting the 
‘blood-eagle’ ( blodgrn rista). The ribs were cut from the back and the 
lungs drawn out. Torf-Einar, Jarl of Orkney, defeated Halfdan High- 
leg, son of Harald Fine-hair, and captured him; he cut the blood-eagle 
on his back and gave him to OSinn (gaf harm 6 dni ) 21 In the Reginsmdl 

(str. 26), the blood-eagle was said to be cut upon Lyngvi, after he had 
been captured by Sigurd. In the Pattr af Ragnars sonum (III), it is 
told how the sons of Ragnar LoQbrok cut the eagle on the back of the 
Northumbrian King Ella (died 867) in order to avenge their father, 
whom the King had tortured in the serpent-pit. The Pattr is late and un- 
trustworthy, but allusion was made to this tradition already in the 
Knutsdrapa (str. 1) composed by Sighvat about 1038. Sighvat said: 

Auk Ellu bak 
at let hinns sat, 
fvarr, ara, 
Jorvik, skorit. 

Ivar, he who resided 
in York, 

had the eagle cut 
on the back of Ella . 22 

It has been noticed that, besides being associated with Odinn, this 
form of torture was commonly used by men who avenged their fathers. 23 
While it is plain that it was not prompted by brutality alone, the inner 
significance of the act remains obscure. 24 

Animal sacrifices were more common than human ones, and they 
often took the form of a sacrificial banquet. At the festival which Snorri 
described beasts of many kinds were slaughtered, and at least three gods 
as well as deified ancestors were revered. 

Some gods were more suitably honoured by sacrifice of one beast 
than another. The boar was considered a suitable sacrifice for Freyr, 
as is told in various versions of the Heidreks Saga . 25 The legendary king, 
Heidrek the Wise used to sacrifice to the god Freyr. At Yule-tide, or in 
February, the sacrificial boar would be led before the king. He was 
called the sonarggltr or ‘leading boar’, 26 and he was as big as an ox; he 
was deemed so holy that men laid hands upon him and swore binding 
oaths. A story closely resembling this one is told in a prose note appended 
to the Helga kvifta Hjgrvardssonar (str. 30) . 

The association of the boar with Freyr and the Vanir is made plain in 
sources already quoted (see Ch. VII, Freyr) . It is difficult to avoid the 
suspicion that the boar was one of the forms in which Freyr was con- 
ceived. This is confirmed by the word vaningi or ‘son of the Vanir’, 
which was applied, in poetry, both to the god Freyr and to the boar. 
Freyja, the sister of Freyr, was also called Sf r or ‘Sow’. 27 

This implies that when the flesh of the boar was consumed at the 
sacrificial banquet, those who partook of it felt that they were consum- 
ing the god himself and absorbing his power. 

The ox and the bull were also used as sacrifice for Freyr, as was 
shown in the passage quoted from Viga-Glums Saga above. A more 
detailed story of a sacrifice of a bull to Freyr is given in the Brandkrossa 
Pattr (I), a work of the late thirteenth century. 28 This passage in the 




Pattr was written under the influence of Viga-Glums Saga , but adds 
something to it. Odd, like Thorkell the Tall, had been expelled from 
his estates and, before he left, he had a bull slaughtered and held a 
magnificent feast, saying that he gave (gaf) all of it to Freyr, so that the 
man who took his place should leave the estate in no less grief than he. 

The fertility god, Freyr, and his sister Freyja, must have been 
thought of in the form of a bull and a cow. There are several tales which 
tell how cattle were revered and worshipped. Snorri 29 tells of a king in 
ancient days who used to sacrifice to a cow, drank her milk and took 
her wherever he went. After the cow died, she was placed in a howe, 
close to that of the king. It is told in the Ragnars Saga Lodbrokar , (Chs. 
IX-X) of a cow, called Sibilja, whom Eysteinn Beli, legendary king of 
the Swedes, used to worship and called a god (god). Such great sacrifices 
were given to the cow that she grew fierce and raging. She would head 
the army in battle and, when she bellowed, the enemies would lose 
their heads and fight among each other! No one, not even their 
authors, would believe that such stories were true, but yet they cannot 
be made of nothing. 

To these notes it may be added that ‘Freyr’ could also be used as a 
poetical word for ox. 30 In the ‘Story of Thidrandi’, quoted in an earlier 
chapter (see Ch. XI), there was an ox called Spamadr (Prophet), who 
was to be slaughtered for the feast of the Winter-nights. Horses were 
also much used for sacrifice, and their flesh, .particularly the liver, was 
consumed. 31 

One of the strangest stories of a fertility sacrifice is given in the 
‘Story of Volsi’ ( Vqlsa Pdttr ) which is inserted in the Saga of St Olaf in 
the Flateyjarbok (II, 331). As it stands, this story reads like a sophisti- 
cated author’s burlesque of ‘goings-on’ among illiterate peasants living 
on a remote headland of northern Norway. 

It is told that St Olaf, well aware of the persistence of heathen prac- 
tices in outlying parts of his kingdom, heard of an old man and wife, 
living on an isolated spot in the north. They had a son and daughter, 
as well as a thrall and serving-maid. One autumn a fat draught-horse 
died and, pagan as they were, the family cut him up and stewed him. 
When the horse was skinned, the farmer’s son, full of boisterous humour, 
picked up the generative organ ( vingull ), ran into the house and shook it 
in front of the women, saying : 

Her megud sja Here you can see 

heldr rqskligan a good stout vingull 

vingul skorinn chopped off from 

af viggs fQdur the horse’s father. 



her er, ambatt, For you, serving-maid, 

bessi Vqlsi this Volsi (phallus) will be 

allodaufligr lively enough 

in nan lair a. between the thighs. 

The housewife grasped the vingull, saying that neither this iior any- 
thing else should go to waste. She dried it, and wrapped it in a linen 
cloth, with onions and herbs to preserve it, and put it into her chest. 
Every evening she brought it forth, uttering a formula, and she placed 
all her faith in it, holding it to be her god (gud sinn ), and persuading all 
the household to do the same. The vingull was filled with such demonia- 
cal power that it grew strong and great and could stand beside the 
housewife. Every evening she chanted a verse over it and passed it 
round the assembled company, each of whom contributed a verse. 

Late one evening, St Olaf arrived with his friends, Finn Arnason, and 
the Icelandic poet, Thormod, all of them disguised. They sat down in 
the hall waiting for the people of the house to assemble. Last of all the 
housewife came in, bearing the vingull, which she addressed affection- 
ately as Vqlsi, while she clutched it to her bosom. 32 Volsi was passed 
from hand to hand, and everyone who received it uttered a verse, often 
obscene, and always accompanied with the puzzling refrain : 

biggi Mprnir (Maurnir, MS.) May Mornir 

betta bloeti receive this sacrifice. 

If we could know what, or who, Mornir was, we might understand 
the story better. The question is largely philological and has been 
much discussed, most ably by F. Strom, 33 some of whose arguments I 
shall use, while reaching a different conclusion. Mqrn (fem. sing.) is 
used as a poetic word for ‘troll- woman’ 31 and, in at least one early 
scaldic passage 35 Marnar fadir (father of Morn) seems to designate the 
giant Thjazi. This would suggest that Morn was a name for the goddess 
Skadi, the ‘goddess of snow-shoes’, who became the wife of the fertility- 
god, Njord (see Ch. VII, Njord). 

On such grounds it has been supposed that Mqrnir is a fem. pi., and 
that the vingull, or phallus, was presented to fertility-goddesses, com- 
parable with the dish. 

While this view is attractive, and has even been supported by com- 
parison with an ancient Indian rite, 36 it is difficult to accept. A fem. 
pi., whether of the 0, i or a-stem, in the form Mqrnir would be 
exceptional, although forms such as Marnar , Marnir, even Mernir might 
well be possible. 

Mqrnir is recorded as a name for ‘sword’, 37 and it is most probably 
related to the verb merja (to crush), and is thus comparable with beytill 




(cf bauta ‘to hit, strike’), which also appears in verses of the ‘Story of 
Volsi* with the meaning ‘phallus’. 

This implies that vingull, bey till, Vqlsi, Mqrnir are all one and the same. 
The phallus is not only the emblem, but even the embodiment of the god 
of fertility, cum ingente priapo. If it was right to suggest that the sacrificial 
boar (sonargqltr) was the incarnation of Freyr, to whom he was sacri- 
ficed, it may be true that Volsi-Mornir was both the sacrifice and the 
recipient of the sacrifice. On this basis we may better understand the 
sacrifice of the king-god, and the words of OSinn : ‘wounded with a 
spear and given to 6 Sinn, myself to myself 5 . 

Other gods besides the Vanir were conceived in animal form. The 
attendant spirits of OSinn were the wolves, Geri and Feki, and the 
ravens, Huginn and Muninn. OSinn is the Raven-god (Hrafnass), and 
when he escaped from the castle of the giant bearing the sacred mead of 
poetry he took the form of an eagle (see Ch. II). Floki, offering sacrifice 
to his ravens (see Ch. XII above) probably thought of them as incar- 
nations of OSinn, and Hakon the Great, offering sacrifice to OSinn, 
knew that the sacrifice had been accepted when two ravens flew croak- 
ing over his head. 38 

Poets who wished to say that a prince or warrior slew his enemies in 
battle would often say that he fed the wolf, the eagle or the raven, or 
else rejoiced them. Einar Skalaglamm said that ‘the raven was filled 
with the sacrifice of the wolf’, 39 and Gizur GullbrarskAld, early in the 
eleventh century said : 

Fylkir gledr i folki The prince rejoices in 

flagSs blakk ok svan Hlakkar battle the troll-wife’s 

horse (wolf) and the 
swan of Hlokk (raven ). 40 

Expressions like these were part of the poet’s stock-in-trade, but those 
who used them could not have dissociated them from the common con- 
ception that those who fell in battle were given to OSinn, as the Swedish 
King Eirik the Victorious gave his enemies to OSinn when he hurled a 
javelin over their heads, saying: ‘you all belong to Odinn’. 41 The asso- 
ciation between Odinn and the raven as the recipient of the dead was 
shown most plainly by the Icelander Helgi Trausti, who had killed his 
mother’s lover, Thorgrim, son of AsmoS. Helgi said : 

AsmoSar gafk OSni I have given to Odinn 

arfa jjrottar djarfan ; the bold son of Asmod ; 

guldum galga valdi I paid the lord of the gallows 

Gauts tafn, en na hrafni. the sacrifice of Gaut (Odinn), 

and gave the corpse to the raven . 42 


In the description of the sacrificial feast which Snorri gave in his life 
of Hakon the Good, he laid emphasis on the toasts {full) drunk to the 
gods Odinn, Njord, Freyr. After this the company drank the bragafull, 
and then the minni or toast in memory of departed kinsmen. 

The terms bragafull and minni are difficult to interpret. The first is 
found in the variant forms bragafull and bragafull, and its basic meaning 
is probably ‘the chieftain’s toast’. Its significance is shown best in the 
Tnglinga Saga (XXXVII). After the death of a king or a jarl, his heir 
would hold a feast. He must sit on the step in front of the high seat until 
the cup, called bragafull (v.l. bragafull), was brought forth. After that he 
was conducted to the high seat and was entitled to his inheritance. 

In this passage, as elsewhere, the bragafull was accompanied by 
oaths. In the prose note already quoted from the Helga kvida Hjqrvardssonar 
(str. 30) it is said : 

The sacrificial boar {sonargQltr) was led forward. Men placed their hands 
upon him, and swore oaths on the bragafull. 

When he wrote about the Jomsborg vikings, 43 Snorri used the word 
minni almost in the same way as he had used bragafull in the Tnglinga 
Saga. Before he stepped into his father’s high seat, Sveinn Tjiiguskegg 
drank his minni, swearing that before three years had passed, he would 
invade England, kill King Ethelred or drive him from the land. But in 
the same chapter, Snorri tells how the vikings drank Christ’s minni, and 
the minni of the Archangel Michael. 

As the passage quoted at the beginning of this chapter showed, the 
word minni could mean, for Snorri, ‘toast in memory’, e.g. of departed 
kinsmen. This, it appears is popular etymology. In Old Norse, the word 
minni means ‘memory’, but its application to ‘toast in memory’ must be 
influenced by the High German minna (later minne), which was used to 
mean little more than ‘toast’ {amor, e.g. in amore sanctorum) . 44 

The author of the Fagrskinna , 45 a history of the Kings of Norway 
written rather earlier than the Heimskrmgla, was aware that the word 
minni had come to replace the older word full. He said that, in the old 
days, people poured out the full as they now did the minni , and they 
assigned the. full to their mightiest kinsmen, or else to Thor or other 
gods. This text confirms Snorri’s assertion that toasts of departed ances- 
tors were drunk. Again the ceremony is a form of communion between 
men and gods, men and men. 

Alcoholic liquor is a drug ; it raises man into a higher world, where 
he is inspired by loftier thoughts. Its emotional affects are like those of 
poetry, and that is why, in the myth of the origin of poetry, poetry is 



identified with the precious mead. The Germans described by Tacitus 
( Germania XXII) used to discuss vital questions, even those of peace and 
war, at banquets, for at no time was the mind more open to thought. 
Comparable beliefs are recorded among Indians and other Indo-Euro- 
pean peoples, and even among the Aztecs of Mexico. 46 

The question may finally be asked, who conducted the sacrifices 
described in this chapter and the preceding one ? It is plain that reli- 
gious life was not sharply distinguished from the profane. In Iceland, 
where history is better preserved than in other northern lands, the 
organization of the pagan religion is fairly plain. It was seen in Ch. XII 
(p. 243) that the chief temples numbered thirty-six or thirty-nine. They 
were administered by the godar, of whom there were probably thirty-six 
when the Constitution was established c. 930, and thirty-nine when it 
was reformed c. 963. The godi had to keep up the temple and conduct 
the sacrifice 47 and in return he received the temple-dues ( hoftollar ) . 

The word godi (pi. godar) derives from god (god), and its original 
meaning can be no other than ‘the divine’. It may be compared with 
the Gothic gudja (priest). This implies that the office of godi, or godord, as 
it was called, was, in origin sacral. 48 On the other hand, historical sources 
show that, in Iceland, the religious ones were only a part of the godi’s 
rights and duties and that, by the end of the pagan period, the godi was 
little more than a secular chieftain. The godar presided over local 
assemblies and were independent rulers, each over his own followers 
( pingmenn ). They were united by contract when the General Assembly 
(Alpingi) was formed, c. 930, but they still maintained much of their 
independence. The godord was described in an early legal document as 
‘authority and not property’ 49 and, therefore, in Christian times not 
subject to tithe, but it was normally inherited, and could be sold, lent, 
or even divided. 50 

The settlers of Iceland were predominantly of Norwegian culture 
and ancestry, and their constitutional law, introduced by Glfljot c. 930, 
was based on the west Norwegian law of the Gulaping . 51 One of the 
settlers, Thorhadd, had been a temple-godz ( kofgodi ) in Thrandheim, 
and brought much of his temple with him to Iceland. 52 We cannot, 
however, tell what was Thorhadd’s social or political position in 
Norway. 53 

We hear little of godar in other Scandinavian land!. 54 Two godar are 
named in Danish inscriptions of the ninth and tenth centuries. 55 One of 
these, named twice, is designated Nura kupi, perhaps implying that he 
was godi of a clan or local group, called JVurir. 

In general it seems that in Scandinavia it was chiefly the prince or 
the king who presided over sacrifice. Sigurd, Jarl of Hladir, maintained 



the sacrifice on behalf of King Hakon the Good, who was then a nominal 
Christian. 56 It was seen in Gh. IX that kings were held responsible for 
the harvest and welfare of their subjects. When they sacrificed ardently, 
as did Hakon the Great, the people prospered, but when, like Olaf the 
Wood-cutter and the sons of Eirfk Bloodaxe, they neglected the sacri- 
fice, the seasons went awry and there was famine. 

While sacrifice was generally conducted by men, we hear also of 
priestesses and, in a passage already quoted (Ch. XII, p. 239), a woman 
was said to perform the sacrifice. It is also told in the Kristni Saga (II) 
how the missionary, Thorvald was preaching the faith in Iceland about 
the year 982, and meanwhile a woman was offering sacrifice in the 

Two women named in the Landnamabok are given the title gydja or 
‘priestess’. In the Vapnfirdinga Saga (Ch. V), a certain Steinvor is said to 
be hof gydja (temple-priestess), and to have charge of the temple, re- 
ceiving the temple-dues. It is clear that such women did not wield 
political power, but it is possible that they could inherit the godord and 
exercise religious functions which went with it. 57 

It has been suggested that priestesses were associated particularly 
with the fertility-god, Freyr. 68 It is noteworthy that the Landnamabok 
names a ThuriQ hof gydja, dwelling in the extreme south of Iceland. This 
woman was half-sister of a Thord Freysgodi (Freyr’s priest), whose family 
were called Freysgydlingar (priestlings of Freyr). In the region of their 
home is a Freysnes (Freyr’s Headland) . 

The supposition that priestesses officiated particularly in the cult of 
Freyr may be supported by the tale of Gunnar Helming quoted above 
(Ch. XII), where the idol of Freyr in Sweden was said to be accom- 
panied by a woman called his wife. The god and his priestess seem to 
form a divine pair, as did the goddess Nerthus and her priest. 59 

It was suggested above that there was no regular priesthood in Scan- 
dinavia. If there was, it probably developed late, and perhaps under 
the influence of Christianity. Adam of Bremen, in a passage quoted 
above (Ch. XII) mentioned priests (sacer dotes), who ministered to the 
idols of Thor, Wodan and Fricco at Uppsala. 

In general, professional priests probably played little part in the 
religion of the English and continental Germans. Czesar 60 said that 
Germans had no ‘druids’ ( druides ) to preside over sacrifice, perhaps im- 
plying that religious practices among Germans were less highly or- 
ganized than were those of the Celts. Tacitus mentioned the priest of 
the goddess Nerthus, and the priests, muliebri ornatu , who ministered to 
the two Aids (see Ch. X). He tells also of the sacer dos civitatis, who read 
the auguries from ships of wood, and of the priest, accompanied by a 



king or chieftain, who studied the neighing and snorting of sacred 
horses ( Germania X). Bede 61 writes at some length of Coifi, chief priest 
of Northumbrians (primus pontificum) , implying that, in that region, there 
was a fully developed pagan hierarchy by the time Christianity was 
introduced (see Ch. XII) . 




It has been noticed that the basis of Norse heathendom lay in the 
worship of gods or divine beings. This worship implied a cult, organized 
on a larger or smaller scale. In some instances, at least, the worship of 
the lesser divinities, such as the female tutelary spirits (disir), or of the 
elves (alfar) or the deified priapus ( Vqlsi ) , was a family festival, over 
which the master of the house or his wife presided . 1 

The worship of major gods, on the other hand, was organized more 
elaborately, and the populations of districts, large or small, joined in 
sacrifice in public temples. Everyone was obliged to attend or contri- 
bute to the great festival at Uppsala, held every nine years. The temples 
in GuSbrandsdal and at Hladir were also centres of organized worship, 
over which kings or chieftains presided. On a smaller scale, a like or- 
ganization can be observed in the religious cults of Iceland, where the 
godi, at once temporal and religious ruler, conducted the sacrifice, and 
property owners were obliged to pay dues (hoftollar) for the upkeep of 
the temple . 2 

The ninth and tenth centuries were an age of social and political up- 
heaval, especially in Norway. The rise of the monarchy and the seizure 
of ancestral estates drove many from their homes. Some took refuge in 
other parts of Norway, while others tried their fortunes overseas. The 
most conservative people, the hereditary landowners, and especially 
those of western Norway, were those most radically affected by the 
social revolution of that era. Driven from their lands, they were obliged 
to seek a living elsewhere. Some of them carried their traditions, even 
took the pillars of their temples, to the newly discovered lands in the 
west, Iceland and the Faroe Islands. But others became homeless wan- 
derers, divorced from the social organization and culture in which they 
had grown up. If they joined viking bands, they entered a new or- 
ganization and they might then, like the Icelandic poet, Egill Skalla- 
Grimsson , 3 adopt the cult of a warrior god, such as Obinn, of whom 
they had heard little in their childhood. But there were others who took 
up the beggar’s staff, or fled to the forests to join outcasts, who had left 




society because of some crime, or because of persecution, gaining their 
bread by wits and strength. 

Men like these, cut off from society, were also cut off from the re- 
ligion of their ancestors and, for them, the cult of the gods had lost its 
meaning. Again and again, we read in the sources of ‘godless men’, 
who had rejected the belief in gods altogether. 

Such godless men, the social misfits, must have lived at every period, 
but it is likely that Christian writers of the Middle Ages made more 
of them than history justified. In their eyes it was better to believe in no god 
than to bring sacrifice to stocks and stones, idols and demons. It is said of 
many idealized figures of the Heroic Age that they never sacrificed to the 
gods, and despised pagan practices. Among these unbelievers was the 
Danish Hrolf Kraki, ‘most famous of all kings of ancient days’. Neither 
Hrolf nor his chosen champions ever sacrificed to gods, but believed 
only in their own might and main (d m&tt sinn ok megin ) . Hrolf once ex- 
claimed that it was not the wicked Odinn who governed men’s lives, 
but rather fate ( audna ) . Hrolf ’s champions spoke -of Odinn as that foul 
and faithless son of the devil. In contrast to Hrolf stands his arch- 
enemy, ASils, the treacherous king of the Swedes, assiduous in the cult 
of gods and in the pursuit of magic. 4 Another hero, Ketill Hoengr, is 
made to say in verse : 

Odin biota I never gave sacrifice 

gerda ek aldri, to Odinn, 

hefik fio lengi lifat. and yet I have lived long. 5 

No less famous was Orvar-Odd (Arrow-Odd), who lived for several 
centuries and travelled the world from Bjarmaland to Greece. Odd 
would never sacrifice, and thought it contemptible to crawl before 
stocks and stones. 6 

Sagas and other medieval works, which have a firmer basis in history, 
also describe godless men, both in Iceland and Norway and, as might 
be expected, their numbers grow as the Heathen Age approached its 
close. A number of men have the nickname ‘godless’ ( godlauss ), and the 
Landnamabol : 7 names a settler of Iceland, Hall the godless, adding that 
he was son of Helgi the godless, probably a man of western Norway. 
Neither Hall nor his father would ever sacrifice, but like Hrolf and his 
champions, they believed in their own might {a matt sinn). 

A more detailed story is told of Hjorleif, who came from Norway to 
settle in Iceland about 872. He was the foster-brother of Ingolf, re- 
membered as the first permanent settler. These men had grown up in 
the west of Norway and, when young, they had raided and fought some 
battles together, and had once visited Iceland. But, while Ingolf stayed 


in Norway, Hjorleif lived as a viking in Ireland, where he met with 
memorable adventures and captured a number of thralls. When Hjor- 
leif returned to Norway, his foster-brother held a sacrifice, and he 
learned from the omens that he should settle in Iceland. Hjorleif, on the 
other hand, refused to join in the sacrifice, for this was contrary to his 
practice. The two foster-brothers sailed for Iceland together. Ingolf was 
guided by the sacred pillars ( qndvegissulur ) of his house, or temple ; he 
threw them overboard, resolved to settle where they should drift 
ashore. It is not told that Hjorleif put trust in sacred objects or divine 
beings, and after he landed in Iceland he met with a miserable end, 
murdered by his Irish thralls. Ingolf, when he beheld the dead body 
of his foster-brother, exclaimed that such must be the fate of one 
who would not offer sacrifice to the gods. 8 

In some contexts, the words mdttr and megin , in which godless men 
are said to believe, appear to have a magical or supernatural signi- 
ficance. But it is not necessary to believe that these men had reverted to 
an animist, pre-theistic form of religion, or that they worshipped a form 
of deity within themselves. 9 For the most part they believed only in 
themselves, in what they could do with their own strength and wits. 
Such sentiments were expressed most plainly by Finnbogi the Strong, a 
somewhat apocryphal hero of the tenth century. When the Emperor of 
Byzantium asked Finnbogi what he believed in, he answered : ‘I believe 
in myself’ (ek trui a sjdlfan mik ) . 10 

Two stories may be added to illustrate the outlook of such godless 
men. Even if these stories cannot be regarded as historical in every 
detail, they may show how some people thought of religion and its 
practices towards the end of the Heathen Age. 

Snorri and other medieval historians describe the march of St Olaf 
from Sweden into the eastern provinces of Norway to fight his last 
battle, at Stiklastadir, in the year 1030. 11 Olaf s army was a motley one 
and, as he marched through wastes and forest, adventurers and foot- 
pads flocked to his banner. Two of them are named, Afra-Fasti and 
Gauka-Thorir, who were said to be highwaymen and notorious rob- 
bers, leading a band of thirty men no better than themselves. When 
they heard that St Oiaf’s army was passing through the region which 
they frequented, they resolved to join it. They were moved neither by 
religious fervour nor political ambition, but they craved experience. 
They had never taken part in a battle conducted by professional 
generals, deploying their men in formation, and they were anxious to 
see what tactics the King would adopt. When they offered their ser- 
vices, the King said that he would be glad to enlist such doughty men, 
but, said he : ‘are you Christians ?’ Gauka-Thorir answered that they 




were neither Christian nor heathen ; he and his men believed in nothing 
but their own strength and their luck in battle (a/?, sigrsali)> and that 
had served them well enough. The King urged them to submit to bap- 
tism and adopt the true faith, but when they refused, he ordered them 
to leave his presence. The highwaymen felt this a disgrace, since no one 
had ever refused their support before. They resolved to follow the 
King’s army at a distance, in company with the rest of the riff-raff. 

When the King drew towards the battlefield, he mustered his men, 
and found that there were more than a thousand heathens among them. 
He ordered a mass baptism, but the greater number refused to submit, 
and turned back. Now Gauka-Thorir and Afra-Fasti came forward, but 
again refused baptism, and retired to take counsel together. One of 
them said : T shall join in the battle, giving support to one side or the 
other; it does not matter to me on which side I fight.’ But the other 
said that he would prefer to fight at the side of the King, who had the 
greater need of support, and he added : ‘if I have to believe in a god, 
why should it be worse for me to believe in the White Christ than any 
other?’ These ruffians now submitted to baptism, and laid down their 
lives in the forefront of the King’s army. 

Arnljot, another of St Olaf ’s followers, said that hitherto he had be- 
lieved in nothing but his might and strength, but now he had come to 
believe in the King himself. When the King told him to believe in the 
White Christ, he said that he did not know where Christ lived or what 
he did, but he was ready to believe anything the King told him. 
Arnljot also laid down his life for the King. 12 

A third and equally significant story is told of the Christian King, 
Olaf Tryggvason (995-1000). Bard was the name of a powerful chief- 
tain in Upplond ; he would not submit to the King, nor embrace the 
religion which he taught. The emissaries whom the King had sent to 
him failed to return. There was no temple on Bard’s estate, and the 
King had no reason to believe that he was devout in his worship of the 
gods. Wishing to make a final attempt to convert Bard, Olaf sent the 
Icelander, Thorvald Tasaldi to him. Declaring his religious beliefs, 
Bdrd said : ‘I believe neither in idols nor demons ; I have travelled from 
land to land, and I have come across giants as well as black men, but 
they have not got the better of me. Therefore, I have believed in my 
might and strength . . .’ 13 

In stories like these, to which many more could be added, we read of 
men whom society had rejected as outlaws, and especially of those who 
had travelled and seen much of the world and had, therefore, broken 
with the traditions of their homeland. Thus isolated, they could no 
longer practise the conventional religion which they had learnt in 


childhood, and they found nothing to replace the beliefs which this 
religion expressed except belief in themselves, and what they could do 
by their own courage, resolution and physical strength, all of which 
conceptions are covered by the words mdttr and megin. It would be 
interesting if men who held such opinions in the Heathen Age could speak 
for themselves. It is possible that they do. 

In earlier chapters I have mentioned the Hdvamdl (Words of the 
High One, Odinn). 14 As already explained, this is not a single poem, 
but a collection of poems or fragments on various subjects and of 
diverse age and origin. Although the title Hdvamdl is given to the whole 
collection only two of the first seventy-nine strophes contain allusion to 
OSinn. The rest tell hardly anything about religion or belief in gods. 
They read rather as the words of one who had travelled far and seen 
much (str. 18), and had come to despise tradition and all the comfort 
which traditional religion might bring with it. Yet the title Hdvamdl is 
not altogether inappropriate, even to this part of the collection. As I 
have attempted to explain, the cult of Odinn, in some of its aspects, 
represents a breach with tradition and a rejection of traditional 
morality and social organization. In this way the cult of Odinn draws 
near to atheism. 

It is hardly necessary to emphasize that these first strophes of the 
Hdvamdl do not, in themselves, form a unit, but consist rather of verse 
sequences, often disordered and corrupt. 15 But most of these strophes 
show enough internal similarity for us to think that they stem from one 
period and one country and, for the present purpose, it is convenient to 
speak of their author or authors as one. 

Few would deny that Norway was the land in which most of the 
strophes originated. The descriptions of nature apply more readily to 
Norway than to Iceland. The poet describes a withering pine-tree, and 
he speaks of tools and appliances better known in Norway than in Ice- 
land, of piles of dried timber stored for winter, and of wooden tiles for 
roofing (str. 60), which could hardly have been used in Iceland. He 
speaks also of cremation, which was well known in Norway during the 
Viking Age, but never widespread in Iceland. He speaks of the son of 
a prince (str. 15), who filled no place in the social system of Iceland. 

If these strophes were composed in Norway, we may wonder when 
and among what class of the people they originated. It has often been 
said that they express the cynical, individualist and selfish outlook of 
the peasant. It is true that some interest is shown in house and home, 
cattle and economy. But it would be hard to believe that the hereditary 
farmer, the odalsbondi of Norway, was so cynical and individualistic and 
had so little interest in his clan and traditions as the author of these 



verses. Indeed, it is well to beget a son, because he may put up a memo- 
rial stone (. bautasteinn ) for you (str. 72), but it is no use saving money for 
those you love ; if you do, someone else will get it (str. 40) . 

Companions and friendship are valued highly, but this is not the self- 
less friendship and loyalty which so many saga-writers admired. It is a 
self-seeking friendship. ‘When I was young, I went my way alone; I 
was rich and happy when I found a companion, for man is the joy 
(almost the plaything) of man’ (str. 47). The poet tells how to make 
friends and how to keep them. A man should be washed and fed when 
he goes into the company of others (str. 61) ; he should not visit his 
friends when he is half starved, gaping at every morsel (str. 33). No one 
must try the patience of his friends too hard ; he must move on, for by 
the third day the loved guest is hated (str. 35) ; when he comes another 
time they may tell him that the beer is finished, or else not brewed 
(str. 66). 

You must win your friends, exchange presents with them and laugh 
when they laugh (strs. 41-2). If you trust them, be loyal to them, but if 
you do not trust them, pretend that you do, laugh with them just the 
same, but do not let them know what you think (strs. 44-6) . 

The sentiments expressed in these strophes are not those of men who 
tilled the soil under patriarchal guidance. They are rather those of 
men who have been uprooted, have travelled far and learnt much 
(str. 18). In other words they express the thoughts of men living in an 
age of social and political upheaval. This suggests the Viking Age, and 
especially the late ninth and tenth centuries, when Harald Finehair and 
his immediate followers were consolidating the authority of the central 
monarchy. Landowners were driven from hereditary estates and forced 
to take up the beggar’s staff (str. 78), or to seek a livelihood other than 
that to which they were accustomed. 

In these first strophes of the Havamal moral virtues are ignored, except 
for bravery and decorum. Mystical beliefs, such as those in a future life, 
or even in the gods, play no part and are even scorned. A man must not 
attempt to keep out of battle, nor go in fear of his life, for death, 
whether by the spear or old age, is its inevitable conclusion (str. 16). But 
yet there is no disaster worse than death. Even a lame man can ride a 
horse, a deaf man can join in battle ; it is better to be blind than burned 
on the funeral pyre, for a corpse is no use to anyone (str. 71). A man 
has nothing to hope for, but that his son will raise a cairn in his memory 
(str. 72), and that those who come after him will speak well of him 
(strs. 76-7). 



In earlier chapters I have often mentioned Norse conceptions of 
death. Fallen warriors and heroes were said to go to Valholl, or to be 
taken by OSinn, and dead kings were sometimes raised to the status of 
elves, or even of gods . 1 It was seen also how intimately the cults of 
death were linked with those of fertility . 2 

It may now be helpful to summarize beliefs about death, and parti- 
cularly those of the simpler people, whose lives are described so vividly 
in the Family Sagas. 

At the outset, it must be recognized that we can look for no consis- 
tency. Different men held different beliefs, and a man might well hold 
views which were not logically consistent. Beliefs in the after-life were 
hazy but, in general, it may be said that life went on after death, at 
least for a time, and that there was communion, more or less intimate, 
between the living and the dead. The dead were trusted, venerated or 
feared. They could give advice and help the living, but also injure them. 

It was widely believed that the after-life was inseparable from the 
body. The dead man lived on, but his life was in the grave, and he 
could still exercise his influence from there. This is shown in numerous 
stories about Icelandic peasants. It was said of one man that he was 
buried standing upright in the threshold of his house, and then he 
could control the household even better than before . 3 Another wished 
to be buried in a place where he could see the ships sailing the fjord ; 4 
and yet another asked to be placed on a hill from which he could watch 
the whole district . 6 

The benevolent dead may help their relatives and neighbours, but 
the wicked will grow even more dangerous and wicked than before. 
Such beliefs are best illustrated by the story of Thorolf Clubfoot , 6 
which is so rich that it deserves to be retold in some detail. 

Thorolf was a wicked man while he lived. He died sitting upright 
in his high seat, and all the servants were shocked at the sight of him. 
They sent for his virtuous son Arnkell, who warned the household not 
to step before the dead man’s eyes before the obsequies ( ndbjargir ) 7 had 
been performed and the eyes were closed. They must evidently be pro- 





tected from the evil eye. Then Arnkell stepped behind his dead father 
and struggled hard before he could overcome him and lay him out. 
The dead man’s head was wrapped in a cloth; the wall of the house 
was broken behind him, and he was dragged through the gap, probably 
in the hope that he would not find his way home through the door. The 
body was laid on a sledge drawn by oxen, and a heavy load it was. It 
was buried under huge stones, but as summer drew to its close and days 
grew short, people knew that Thorolf was not lying quiet in his grave. 
The oxen which had dragged the body were bewitched and went mad ; 
every beast or bird which came near the grave dropped dead on the 
spot. The shepherd would often run home, saying that Thorolf had 
chased him, and one night he did not come home. His body was found 
black as coal, with every bone in it smashed. He was buried beside 

Thorolf often visited his old home, persecuting the housewife who 
raved until she died. He plundered the neighbourhood, killing many 
on his way, and his victims were afterwards seen roaming with him . 8 

Thorolf ’s son, Arnkell, now resolved that the grave must be opened. 
The body was uncorrupt but had grown so heavy that the strongest 
oxen could hardly drag it. In the end they got the corpse to a headland 
above the sea, where they buried it again and fenced it off. 

Seasons passed, and Thorolf gave no trouble, but when his son was 
dead he broke out and did such damage that the neighbours opened 
the grave again. He was still uncorrupt, but he looked more like a troll 
than a man, black as pitch and fat as an ox. The neighbours could 
drag Thorolf no further than the brink of the headland ; they dropped 
him on to the beach, and kindled a fire and burned him up. Like others 
who walk after death, Thorolf had to be killed a second time, perhaps 
even a third, before he was really dead . 9 Even this was not the end of 
him. A miserable, lean cow went down to the beach where the corpse 
had been burned. She licked the stones on to which ashes had drifted, 
and was soon in calf. The calf was a bull, dapple-grey . 10 He was of ab- 
normal size and strength. Long before he was full grown he gored his 
master to death, and then made off to sink in a marsh, and was never 
seen again. 

This story contains two conceptions of death, which are not consis- 
tent. On the one hand there is the living corpse and, on the other, the 
wicked man reborn in the form of a bull. 

I have mentioned some conceptions of death which were popular, at 
least in pagan Iceland, but there were others of which I have said 

Some people believed that the dead did not stay in their graves ; they 


went on a long journey. Their destination was the World of Death, or 
perhaps I should say the Worlds of Death, for there seems to be more 
than one. As Snorri has it, 11 wicked men go to Hel and thence to the 
Misty Hel { Niflhel . , Niflheimr) , 12 Snorri seems here to be drawing on a 
passage in the Vafprudnismdl (str. 43), where it is said that men die from 
Hel into Nifihel. The way to these regions, as Snorri tells, lies down- 
ward and northward, passing through deep, dark valleys. The goddess 
who presides there is herself called Hel. Originally the conception of 
this goddess and her world was probably linked with that of the grave, 
for the name Hel may be related to the verb hylja (to cover). 

A man who had to set out on this long journey needed supplies, tools 
and equipment. We read once of “death-shoes” { kelskor ) fastened to 
the feet of a corpse, for he had to walk to the Other World (til Val - 
hallar). 13 In the same text it is told that a dead man was placed in a ship 
and the ship was placed in the burial mound. In fact, some five or six 
Icelanders of the pagan period were said in early sources to have been 
buried in ships or boats. 14 Here the work of archaeologists helps us. In 
recent years, three or four boat-graves dating from the tenth century 
have been excavated in Iceland. 16 Comparatively little excavation has 
yet been done in that country, and it may be expected that more finds 
of this kind will be made. It is not surprising that the boats in the Ice- 
landic graves are only simple rowing boats, for grave-goods in Iceland 
are generally poor. But when we turn to Norway and Sweden the pic- 
ture changes, for hundreds of boat-graves have been found in those 
countries, including such glorious ones as those of Gokstad and Ose- 
berg, dating from the ninth century. These graves are accompanied by 
countless treasures, burned or buried with the chieftains who occupied 
them. (See Plate 46.) 

It is probably right to assume that the burial ship was intended 
chiefly to carry the dead man to the Other World, although this may 
not have been its only object. In the Gisla Saga (XVII) it is told 
how such a great boulder was placed in the ship that all the timbers 
creaked. The hero said that he did not know how to fix a ship if the 
storm should carry this one away. Archaeologists have also pointed out 
that some of the burial ships are made immovable, or even laid upside- 
down. 16 The ship, which has taken its place in fertility ritual for many 
centuries 17 may well have been regarded as a symbol of rebirth as well 
as of death. 

A man cannot set out on his long journey with nothing but a boat. 
He needs food and weapons, while a woman may need jewels and 
precious clothing, even needles and other equipment for her daily life. 

It is told of a pagan Icelander that he was buried ‘according to 



ancient custom’ with his horse and his dog. 18 The bones of horses have 
often been found in graves, and particularly in those of Icelanders. 19 
In the Oseberg grave, the bones of about thirteen horses have been 
counted. The horse might carry his master on the long journey, and his 
flesh might supplement his diet. It has appeared in earlier chapters 20 
that the horse was a symbol both of death and fertility. Dogs, as the 
sagas sometimes show, 21 were the companions and friends of men, and 
many of their bones have been found in graves throughout the northern 
world. 22 

The dead might also need human company. It is told of one of the 
settlers of Iceland, Asmund Atlason, that when he died his thrall would 
not live after him, and killed himself. Thrall and master were placed in 
a boat together and buried. But some time later, the voice of Asmund 
was heard speaking in verse from the grave. He resented the company 
of the thrall and would rather be left alone. The howe was then opened 
and the thrall taken out. 23 It has been said that the basis of this story 
was that the thrall was sacrificed to his dead master. 24 

However that may be, it is plain that human sacrifices were given to 
the dead. The Oseberg grave contained the bones of two women, and 
it is believed that one was the Queen and the other her servant, 
slaughtered to accompany her. 25 

It might be expected that a man would want a wife or a mistress to 
go with him to the Other World. Norse literary sources tell little about 
this, although Odd Snorrason, who wrote his life of Olaf Tryggvason 
late in the twelfth century, says that if a king of the Swedes died before 
his queen, she would be placed in the howe with him. 26 The archaeo- 
logical researches of H. Shetelig 27 suggest that the custom of suttee, as it 
is called, was not introduced into Norway before the fourth century. 

The most detailed accounts of practices of this kind come, not from 
Norse sources, but from the pens of two Arab travellers, who had 
visited the Rus or Scandinavians living on the Volga. 28 They could con- 
verse only through interpreters, and some of the remarks which they 
report may not be exact. 

One of the Arabs, I bn Rustah, says that when a chieftain among the 
Norsemen dies, his body is laid in a grave which looks like a large 
house. Meat, drink, money and jewels are placed with him and, be- 
sides this, his favourite wife is put alive in the cairn. 

The other Arab, Ibn Fadl&n, remarks that when a poor man among 
the Norsemen dies, they build a small boat, put his body in it and burn 
it up. But when a rich man dies, the procedure is different. Ibn Fadlan 
had himself attended the funeral of a Norse chief and left a lurid and 
horrifying description of it. 



First of all the dead chief’s property was divided into three parts, one 
for his family, one to buy drink for those attending the funeral, and one 
to pay for the equipment which the chief will take to the Other World. 
The chief’s servants were then assembled and they were asked : ‘which 
of you will die with him ?’ When one answered : ‘I will’ — and it was 
usually a woman — she was held to her word. From that time she was 
treated as a princess. Servants were appointed to wait on her (and, 
presumably, to prevent her escape) . 

Meanwhile a ship was procured for the dead chief and drawn up on 
posts on the shore. After some days the body was placed, splendidly 
dressed, in a tent on the ship, with every kind of food and drink. A dog 
was cut in half and thrown into the ship, as well as draught beasts, 
cows, a cock and a hen. Meanwhile, the girl who was to die passed 
from one man to another, who had intercourse with her, saying that he 
did it only for the love of the chief. 

The girl was given a hen. She cut off its head and the body was 
thrown into the funeral ship. It is possible that birds of this kind symbo- 
lized rebirth. We may remember the story of Hadding’s female com- 
panion who pulled off the head of a cock and threw it over the wall of 
death, where it came to life and crowed. 29 We may also think of the 
cock, Salgofnir, awakening the fallen warriors in Valholl. 30 

The condemned girl was lifted from the ground three times. The first 
time she said : ‘Behold I see my father and mother’, and then : ‘I see all 
my dead relations’. Finally she exclaimed : ‘I see my master seated in 
Paradise, and Paradise is green and fair ... He is calling me, send me 
to him.’ 

The girl was then taken on board the ship where she was cruelly 
slaughtered by an old woman called the ‘angel of death’. Finally the 
ship was set alight and the flames consumed it speedily with all that was 
in it. Afterwards a kind of mound was built over the remains and 
inscriptions were written. 

This Arab account shows that Norsemen had other conceptions of 
death than the sombre ones mentioned in this chapter. A Norseman 
who was present said that the Arabs were stupid men to place their 
beloved in the earth, where worms would eat them. Burned in a twink- 
ling, the dead would go immediately to Paradise. 

Some might hope for a brighter future than the half-life in the grave 
or the journey to distant sunless underworlds. This Tope might be 
fulfilled in Valholl, the warriors’ Paradise, which has so frequently been 
mentioned in this book. It is, however, improbable that beliefs of that 
kind had deep roots, and it is plain that some despised them. Poets of 
the Hdvamdl (strs. 71 ff, cf str. 15) tell that death is the end and the 



worst evil that can befall. Ill health and injury are better ; it is even 
better to be blind than burned on the funeral pyre, for a corpse is a 
useless object. 31 

Out of this negative background comes the noblest of northern 
thoughts of death. Death is the greatest evil known to man, but yet it 
can be overcome. Live well and die bravely and your repute will live 
after you. Fate will decide the moment and manner of your death, but 
fate will not decide how you will face it. A brave death will be re- 
warded, not with pork and mead as in Valholl, but with the esteem of 
your friends, kinsmen and even of your enemies. They will tell how you 
lived and how you died. Your story will live, as has that of many a 
northern hero. 

According to some religious doctrines, this life is not the end, but 
man, or his soul, is reborn to live in another body. We can see, although 
dimly, that Norsemen of the Viking Age knew of this belief. I have 
quoted the story of Thorolf Clubfoot, reborn as a bull. In another text 
we read of lovers who were reborn to continue their love in a second 
life. But that, says the early Icelandic writer, is now called an ‘old 
wives’ tale’. 32 It is improbable that many people of the Viking Age be- 
lieved in metempsychosis, although several instances of the belief have 
been quoted in earlier chapters of this book, and particularly in the 
chapter on the Divine Kingship. 




The story of the creation is given in detail only by Snorri 1 , who com- 
bined several sources, not always consistent with each other, and added 
some deductions of his own. The most important of Snorri’s sources are 
the Vqfprudnismdl , Grimnismdl and Vgluspd (see Ch. I), but he has added 
details from other sources not known to us. 

Since the poems are often difficult to follow, it may be helpful first to 
recall the salient points in Snorri’s story. 

He begins by citing the Vgluspd (str. 3) and, according to the form in 
which he quotes this poem, there was nothing at the beginning of time, 
but a great void, called Ginnungagap , a void charged with mighty, 
magic force. 2 Long before the earth was formed, Nifikeimr, known later 
as the dark, misty world of death, existed. In it was a well, called Hver- 
gelmir, from which flowed eleven rivers. In the south there was another 
world, blazing hot, and it was called Muspell ; it was guarded by a giant, 
called Surtr (the Black) . 

The next stage is difficult to follow. The rivers from Niflheim froze, 
and frozen mist piled up into the Ginnungagap. The rime and ice met 
the sparks from the hot world, Muspell. They melted and the drops took 
the shape of a man, or giant, called Ymir or Augelmir. 3 All the terrible 
tribe of giants descend from this monster, for when he sweated a male 
and female grew under his arm, and one leg got a son with the other. 

Snorri next gives an account of the origin of gods, for which no 
source can be found. Melting rime took the shape of a cow, AuQumbla, 4 
who fed Ymir with her milk. The cow got her own nourishment from 
the salty blocks of rime, which she licked into the shape of a man. He 
was called Buri, and he had a son Bor. Bor married Bestla, daughter of a 
giant Bol thorn (Evil thorn), and their children were the gods, Odinn, 
Vili, Ve. 

These divine brothers killed Ymir, the giant, and such was the flow of 
blood that all the frost giants were drowned except one, who escaped 
mysteriously with his family to continue his evil race. 

The three gods, Cdinn and his brothers, now built the earth. They 



carried the body of Ymir into the middle of the great void. They made 
sea and lakes of his blood, earth of his flesh and the sky of his skull, 
placing a dwarf under each of the four corners, as if to hold it up. 

The clouds were made of Ymir’s brains, and stars and heavenly 
bodies from sparks which flew from Muspell. The gods ordered their 
movements, and thus established days and years. 

The earth was circular and on the outside was a mighty ocean. By its 
shores the gods established a dwelling place for the giants. Within, they 
built Midgard, the world of men, fortified, as it seems, with a fence 
made of Ymir’s eyelashes. 

The god’s next task was to found the race of men. On the seashore 
they came upon two tree-trunks, and endowed them with breath, wit, 
hearing, vision and other qualities of life. The man was called Askr 
(Ash-tree) and the woman Embla, which may mean a creeper, or such- 
like, but has not yet been explained. 5 Finally the gods built Asgard, 
in the middle of the world, where they themselves were destined to 

Much of this story derives from the Vafprudnismal and the Grimnismal , 
from which Snorri quotes a number of lines. It is told in them how the 
earth, sky and sea were made from Ymir’s body and blood. A poet of 
the tenth century had also used the kenning ‘wounds of the giant’s 
neck’ ( jqtuns hals undir ) for ‘sea’. The Vafprudnismal (31-3) tells of the 
origin of the first giant, Aurgelmir, whom Snorri identified with Ymir, 
and of how he propagated his race, although with fewer details than 
Snorri gives. The poem does not tell, as Snorri did, of the flood which 
drowned the giants in the blood of their own ancestor, except for one, 
who escaped with his family on a ludr. The poem tells only that the 
giant was placed on a ludr. This word has never been fully explained 
and interpretations of it vary between cradle, coffin, bier, ship, 6 but 
Snorri seems to think of it rather as an object which floats. It has often 
been said that there was no flood in the Norse creation myth, and that 
Snorri, knowing the story of Noah, felt the need of one. It must, how- 
ever, be admitted that Snorri’s story is altogether unlike the biblical 
one, and has closer affinities with some recorded among primitive 

The most sophisticated and rational account of the creation known to 
Snorri was that of the Vgluspd. Here, as elsewhere, the poet expresses 
individual rather than popular views. For him, the creation was little 
more than the first act in the drama leading to the Ragnarok. 

At the beginning, according to Snorri’s text of the poem, there was 
nothing but a void, although according to other texts, the giant Ymir 
existed already then. Considering how Ymir (Aurgelmir) was said to 



have taken shape, both by Snorri and in the Vafprudnismdl, we may 
think that Snorri followed the better version of the Vgluspd . 7 

The Vgluspd tells next how the sons of Bur, who must be Cdinn and 
his brothers, lifted the world, evidently from the sea, and fashioned 
MiSgarQ. When the sun shone from the south, the earth was over- 
grown with green herbage. Sun, moon and stars were set on their 
courses, day and night established, and man and woman were created 
out of the powerless, fateless Askr and Embla. Their creators were Odinn, 
who was accompanied, not by his brothers Vili and Ve, but by the 
gods Hoenir and Lo6ur (see Ch. V). 

The poet goes on to describe the Yggdrasill, tree of fate, upon which 
the welfare of the universe seems to depend (see Ch. II, Lord of the 
Gallows). Beneath it lay the well of fate (Urdarbrunnr) , from which the 
fates, conceived in female form, proceeded to lay down the course of 
men’s lives. 

From these sketches of the poetic sources from which he chiefly drew, 
it is obvious that Snorri described several incidents which cannot be 
traced to them, at least in their extant forms. 

One of the most striking is that about the cow, Audumbla (AuSumla), 
who fed the giant Ymir and licked the blocks of ice into human form to 
form the first of gods. AuSumbla might thus be seen as mother, both of 
giants and gods. Some legends about the worship of cows were quoted 
in Ch. XII, while oxen or cattle were commonly offered as sacrifice. 
Even if such stories are doubted, it cannot be doubted that Snorri’s 
tale of AuSumbla is, in essentials, age-old. Parallel myths have been 
cited from Persia and India, but there is none which resembles the 
story of Audumbla more closely than that of the Egyptian sky-goddess, 
Hathor, described as mother-goddess, sky-goddess, fertility goddess, 
midwife, nurse of Horus and mother of all gods and goddesses. Like 
AuSumbla, Hathor is depicted in the form of a cow. 8 

Iranian tradition also has striking parallels with the Norse creation 

The creation, as Norse heathens saw it, was a natural evolutionary 
process, arising from the fusion of polarities, heat and cold, light and 
dark. Many variants of the Iranian creation myth are recorded, and 
they too contain such dualist explanations of the cosmos, the ‘hot and 
moist, bright, sweet-smelling, and light’ on the one hand, with the 
‘cold and dry, heavy, dark and stinking’ on the other. The two are 
separated by a void, as it were a mighty gap. 9 

The first giant, Ymir, also finds his counterparts in Iranian and, to 
some extent, in Indian myth. Ymir, as was seen, was at once father and 
mother of the giants and was, in other words, bisexual. A myth like this 



one appears in variant forms in Iranian records. According to one of 
them, the god Zurvan existed before ages. He conceived twins, one 
‘light and fragrant’, the other ‘dark and stinking’. The fair one created 
heaven and earth, and everything beautiful and good, but the other 
created demons and everything evil. 

The formation of the cosmos, as described in some Iranian sources, is 
also rather like that described in the Norse sources. It was made from 
the body of the first anthropomorphic figure. The sky was his head, the 
earth his feet, water his tears, plants his hair. This form of the creation 
myth is said to derive from India. 10 

Tmir, the name of the first anthropomorphic figure in Norse myth, 
could formally mean ‘the roarer’, which is not an unsuitable name for a 
giant, but it has often been associated with Iranian Tima (Sanscrit 
Tama), which means ‘twin’ and is the name given to the first man. 11 

As they are recorded, the Norse and oriental myths of creation are 
separated by many centuries and thousands of miles. They differ, even 
fundamentally, but details such as those about the cow and the her- 
maphrodite progenitor, as well as the cosmos created from the body of a 
primeval being, resemble each other in ways which makes it impossible 
to think of independent development. In other words, the Norse crea- 
tion myth must be influenced by the eastern ones, but it is not yet 
possible to say when and how this influence was exerted. Some would 
suppose that the Goths and other Germanic peoples in south-eastern 
Europe in the first four centuries of our era fell under oriental in- 
fluences. Myths, such as those last quoted, might then have been trans- 
mitted to Scandinavia, even through the medium of the Heruls, who 
returned to that region in the sixth century. It is, however, equally | 

likely that such myths reached Europe at a much earlier period, even j 

as early as the time when Indo-European language and culture were 
adopted. In this case the myths must have been adapted, finally 
formulated, and nearly fossilized in the north. 

Norse creation myths are less sharply dualistic than some eastern 
ones. The first anthropomorphic figure was Ymir, progenitor of the 
evil giants, whose race will live to threaten the cosmos until the Rag- 
narok. They appear at once as demons of devouring death, of destruc- 
tive fire and cold. But Ymir, according to Snorri’s version of the myth, 
was also an ancestor of the gods, for Bestla, mother of Odinn and his 
brothers, was daughter of a giant, Bolthorn. A myth of this kind seems 
to be present in the mind of the author of the Havamdl (str. 140), who 
makes Odinn say : ‘I learned nine mighty songs from the famous son 
of Bglporr (sic), father of Bestla . . .’ It seems that OQinn had acquired 
some of his wisdom and magic from a giant, a maternal uncle. 



Enough stories have been told in this book to show that gods and 
giants were not always on bad terms; the gods themselves were not 
wholly good, and they bear some of the marks of their giant ancestry. 

The centre of the divine world must be the tree Yggdrasill (see Ch. II, 
Lord of the Gallows), where the gods sit in council every day. 12 The 
tree rises to the sky and its branches spread over the whole world. It is 
supported by three roots; one stretches to the world of death (Hel), an- 
other to the world of frost-giants, and the third to the world of men. It 
must be this tree on which OSinn hanged himself in his quest for wis- 
dom. The evergreen at Uppsala may be seen as its earthly replica. The 
Yggdrasill upholds the universe, even as the main pillars uphold a 
house. 13 The welfare of the universe must then depend on the Yggdras- 
ill, just as the welfare of many peoples, even of families throughout the 
Indo-European world, depended on the welfare of one tree, regarded 
with awe and veneration. 

The sibyl to whom the Vgluspd is ascribed seems to remember the 
Yggdrasill before it had risen from the soil, 14 even before fate existed. 
When the mighty tree appears in its full stature, it has already begun to 
decay. It suffers greater torment than men can know ; a hart is devour- 
ing its foliage, its trunk is rotting and the serpent, NfShogg, is gnawing 
it from below. When the Ragnarok is at hand, the old tree will shiver 
and creak. 

The Yggdrasill is also called Mimameidr, the tree or post of Mfmi, 
who can be no other than Munir (also called Mimr ), wisest of the TEsir. 
It will be recalled how, when peace was concluded between the two 
tribes of gods, Munir was sent as a hostage to the Vanir, who cut off his 
head and returned it to their erstwhile enemies. 15 Odinn pickled the 
head and derived wisdom from it. 

According to Snorri, three wells lay at the base of the Yggdrasill, one 
under each root. Under the root which reached to the world of frost- 
giants lay the well of Munir (Mimisbrunnr ) , in which Odinn had pledged 
his eye. Under another root was the well Hvergelmir (Roaring kettle?), 
and under the third was the well of fate (Urdarbrunnr ) . 

In this passage, as in some others, Snorri may be too systematic, and 
probably the three names all apply to one well, which was basically the 
well of fate, and hence the source of wisdom. This well would thus 
correspond with the one beneath the holy tree at Uppsala, in which 
sacrifices were immersed and auguries were read. Ur dr, the name for 
fate, is commonly identified with Old English wyrd, said ultimately to 
be related to Latin vertere (to turn) , as if applied to a goddess spinning the 
threads of fate. In fact, Urdr is sometimes personified, but sometimes 
seems to be rather abstract, and her name is used as a word for death. 





In the Vgluspd (str. 20), the goddess of fate is seen with two others, 
Verdandi (Present?) and Skuld (Future), probably late additions, laying 
down the course of men’s lives. Not only men, but also gods and giants 
are subject to the will of these hardly personal figures. 

As the cosmos had a beginning, so it will have an end, which hangs 
over gods and men as a permanent threat. The end will be the Ragnargk, 
meaning ‘fate of the gods’. In some sources, it is corruptly called Rag- 
namkkr, ‘twilight of the gods’. It was also called aldar rgk, ‘the fate of 
mankind’. The word rgk is not uncommonly used in such senses as 
‘course of events’, ‘destiny,’ ‘fate’. 

As we read the Vgluspa, the only poem in which the whole course of 
the Ragnarok is traced, the elements of decay seem to be present almost 
since the beginning of time. In few lines the poet describes the Golden 
Age of the joyful, innocent, youthful gods ; how they built shrines and 
temples, forged jewels and played at tables : 

unz \>rfir kvomu, 
J>ursa meyjar, 
amatkar mjQk, 
or jgtunheimum. 

until three came, 
daughters of giants, 
filled with cruel might 
from the demon world. 

It is as if the giant maidens had come to sow seeds of corruption. In 
the poem the world hastens on its course. We read of the witch Gull- 
veig, pierced with spears and living yet (see Ch. VII, first section), of 
the war between the two tribes of gods and of the broken wall of Asgarb. 
It is told next how Freyja had been promised, or given, to the giants, 
but the covenant was broken. The tempo increases. The innocent 
Baldr is pierced by the mistletoe and Loki is fettered, and one fearful 
scene succeeds another. The sibyl sees a river flowing from the giant 
world in the east, bearing swords and daggers. On the shore of corpses 
(, Ndstrgnd ) she sees a castle, bound or wattled with serpents’ backs. 
Their poison drips through the skylight. Within she sees perjurers, 
murderers and seducers wading the swift, venomous streams, and the 
cruel serpent, Nfdhogg, sucking the corpses of the dead. 

In the east, the sibyl also sees the brood of the wolf, Fenrir, fed by an 
old giantess in the Iron Forest. One of these is destined to rob or swallow 
the sun. The sun grows dark and the storms tempestuous. 

Two obscure strophes follow, in which three cocks are heard crowing 
in presage of doom. The one is crowing in the gallows tree, or gallows 
wood, 16 the second is awakening Odinn’s warriors in Valholi, and the 
third, sooty-red, is crowing beneath the earth in the world of death. 

The poet tells how the wolf ( freki ) , Garm, chained before the cave, 


Gnipahellir, will bay and break his bonds. This wolf can hardly be 
other than Fenrir, whom Tyr had fettered at the cost of his arm. 17 

The world of men is described in few words. Moral values are re- 
jected; brother slays brother and the bonds of kinship are neglected; 
it is an age of harlotry, a criminal, merciless age. 

HeimdaU, the watchman of the gods, sounds his horn, while the 
Yggdrasill shivers and groans. A giant (jgtunn) breaks loose. This is 
probably Loki who, although counted among the gods, has close affi- 
nities with the giants. 

Demons approach from various directions ; the world serpent coils in 
a mighty wrath, and the rusty yellow eagle shrieks at the prospect of 
carrion, while Naglfar, 18 the ship of death, breaks her moorings. 

Fire-demons, the sons of Muspell, board the ship, with Loki at the 
helm. Meanwhile, the whole of the giant world groans and the dwarfs 
sob before the doors of their rocky dwellings. The mountains crash 
and men tread the world of death. The sky is rent. 

Surt, chief of the demons, arrives with a sword of fire, and the gods 
meet their fate. Freyr fights with Surt, and Odinn falls before the wolf, 
to be avenged by his son ViSar, who pierces the monster to the heart. 
Thor fights with his old enemy the serpent and, as it seems, they kill 
each other. 

The sun will turn black and stars vanish, while the earth sinks into 
the sea. Smoke and flames gush forth, playing against the firmament. 

Even this is not the end of everything, for it is hardly possible to 
think of a state in which nothing is left at all, even though gods and 
men must die. 

The earth, as we may believe, had been lifted by the gods from the 
sea (see p. 277). When they die it must sink back, but when the Rag- 
narok has passed it will rise again. 

Some gods will survive, and once again they will meet and discuss 
the ancient wisdom of Odinn. The gold pieces with which they had 
played tables at the beginning will be recovered ; the Golden Age will 
return. Baldr and Ho5, who innocently killed him, will come back and 
inhabit the divine sanctuaries. Worthy men will live in a hall called 
Gimle, 19 roofed with gold, where they will enjoy delight throughout 

Now the mighty one who rules all will come to his godhead. Even yet 
the world is not purged of evil for the cruel, dark, glittering dragon is 
seen bearing corpses in his wings. 

It must be emphasized that the Vgluspd does not express popular 
views about the Ragnarok, any more than it did about the creation. 
The poet was pagan by upbringing, and his thoughts were grounded on 



pagan tradition. But he was eclectic ; he adopted such pagan symbols as 
suited his taste and added others which he had learnt, perhaps at 
second hand, from Christian legend. 

It is often difficult to know whether a motive is pagan or Christian, 
or whether it was common to both traditions. 

Christian influences may be suspected in the decline of morals, 
when brothers will fight and the bonds of kindred will be ignored (cf 
Mark XIII, 2), as they may when the sun is darkened and the stars fall 
{cf Mark XIII, 24-5). Punishment for the wicked and reward for the 
good, clearly envisaged in the Vqluspd (strs. 39 and 64) may also have 
more to do with Christian than with pagan belief. 

In one strophe, the author of the Vqluspa tells how the mighty one, 
who rules all, will come to his godhead ( regindomr ). Since this strophe is 
found only in one manuscript, some critics have believed it to be inter- 
polated. But Sigurdur Nordal, in his outstanding edition of the poem, 20 
showed that it cannot easily be excluded from the text. In these lines, 
the poet showed that he had crossed the border-line which divides poly- 
theism from monotheism. We could believe that he foresaw the decline 
and end of the pagan religion and hoped for a better one to take its 
place. He may also have been inspired by the widespread Christian 
apprehension that the world would come to an end in the year 1000 or 

i°33- . . 

Even if the Vqluspd expresses the views of a mystic and an exceptional 
poet, the apprehension that the end would come, and was even at hand, 
was not confined to him. Allusions to the impending catastrophe were 
made by several of the scalds. When Eirik Bloodaxe was killed in Eng- 
land (954), his widow commissioned a lay describing how the dead 
prince was received by OSinn and fallen heroes in Valholl. There was 
such a din as if Baldr were returning, as he will when the Ragnarok has 
passed. Why had Odinn, god of war, stolen the victory from Eirik? It 
was because the grey wolf (Fenrir) was glaring at the dwellings of the 
gods, ready to spring; Odinn needed the support of Eirik in the final 
battle. 21 Another thought was expressed by Eyvind in his lay in memory 
of Hakon the Good (died c. 960). Before Norway has so noble a king 
again, the wolf will pillage the dwellings of men. 22 

Kormak, praising his mistress, Steingerd, said that the mountains 
will fall into the sea, and the forces of nature be reversed, as they will at 
the time of the Ragnarok, before so beautiful a woman shall be born 
again. 23 Another Icelandic scald, in a lay in memory of the Orkney 
Jarl, Thorium (died 1064), said that the sun will turn black, the sky 
will fall and the waves will batter the mountain tops before a nobler 
prince is born in Orkney. 24 


Few details about the Ragnarok are described in sources other than 
the Vqluspd except for the Vafprudnismdl and by Snorri, who partly fol- 
lowed this poem. The beliefs expressed in the Vafprudnismdl are cruder 
and more primitive than those of the Vqluspd. 

As in the Vqluspd, Odinn will be killed by the wolf, but according to 
the Vafprudnismdl the wolf will swallow him. Odinn’s son, Vfdar, will 
avenge him, not by stabbing the wolf to the heart, but by tearing his 

The poet knows of several gods who will survive the Ragnarok. 
Vfdar and Vali, the two sons of Odinn, as well as Thdr’s sons, M6di 
and Magni, who will possess the hammer, Mjollnir. He knows also that 
the sun will be destroyed by Fenrir, but beforehand it will give birth 
to another sun, who will tread the path of her mother. The poet also 
tells about the scene of the final battle between gods and giants. It is 
a plain, or field, called Vigridr (Battle-shaker?), a hundred leagues each 
way. 26 He speaks of the fire of Surt ( Surti ) and of the terrible winter, the 
fimbulvetr , which will form a part of the Ragnarok. Two men will sur- 
vive it, hiding themselves in a forest, Hoddmimiskolt. Their food will be 
the morning dew, and from them a new race of men will descend. 

This fimbulvetr is one of the strangest motives in the story of the Rag- 
narok. The author of the Vqluspa (str. 41) seems to make a cryptic 
allusion to it, but it is described in detail only by Snorri, who knew both 
this poem and the Vafprudnismdl , but must have had access to other 
sources as well. 

In the fimbulvetr , as Snorri tells, there will be frost and snow, and the 
sun will give neither light nor warmth. This winter will be the length of 
three winters with no summer between them. One wolf will swallow the 
sun and another the moon. Following the Vafprudnismdl, Snorri also 
tells how two men will survive in the forest Hoddmimisholt. 

A. Olrik 26 drew attention to a rather similar Persian myth, believed 
to be of great age. The wise lord had warned Yima of the approach of a 
winter more terrible than any before. It would rain, snow and hail for 
three years; Yima must build a vara (underground retreat). He must 
shelter the finest of men and women, as well as cattle, plants and 
sweet-smelling foods. After the winter had passed, Yima and the noble 
race he had reared would re-people the earth. 

Possibly the Norse and Persian stories are related, as some of those 
about the creation must certainly have been. But such stories could also 
have developed independently among peoples who had reason to 
apprehend winters, bleaker, colder and darker than they had known 

In his splendid analysis of the Ragnarok, A. Olrik showed that it had 




parallels both in Christian and in pagan legend. The wolf born to 
swallow the sun and the one who is to break loose in the Ragnarok had 
no parallels in Christian eschatology, but figures like them could be 
found in Asian legends and particularly in those of northern and 
western Asia. On the other hand, Loki, the god and demon, who is to 
break his bonds in the Ragnarok, had much in common with the fallen 
angel, who is to lie chained until the Last Day. 

In the Vqluspd (str. 51) some prominence is given to the people of 
Muspell ( Muspells . . . lydir), who will come over the sea in the ship 
Naglfar, with Loki at the helm. In the Lokasenna (str. 42), Loki taunts 
Freyr. He had given away his sword for his giant bride (see Ch. VII). 
He did not know how he would fight when the sons of Muspell rode 
over the dark forest (Myrkvidr ) . 

These sons of Muspell are not named in any other poetic source, 
although Snorri had lucid ideas about them. They are demons of 
destruction and, in the Ragnarok, they appear to be led by the fire-giant 

Snorri had other things to tell of Muspell and his tribe. Muspell owns 
the Naglfar, and the hot world in the south is called 'Muspell’s World 5 
( Muspellsheimr ), or simply Muspell. It is guarded by Surt, with his sword 
of fire. 

It is commonly agreed that the word Muspell is loaned from con- 
tinental German. It is found in the Bavarian poem, Muspilli where it 
appears in the form Muspelle (dative). This poem was inserted into an 
older manuscript, probably in the late ninth century. The word occurs 
also in two passages of the Old Saxon Heliand> of the mid-ninth century, 
as Mudspelles (genitive) and Mutspelli (nominative). 

In these Christian German texts, the word Muspilli can only be an 
abstract noun, meaning ‘the end of the world 5 , ‘Day of Judgment 5 . 
Many attempts have been made to explain its origin. It is plainly a 
compound, and its second element is probably identical with O.N. 
spell (destruction), but no credible explanation of the first element has 
yet been offered. 27 Whatever its origin, the Norse pagans appear to 
have borrowed the word Muspell from their southern neighbours ; they 
misunderstood it, believing not that it meant ‘the end of the world 5 , but 
was the name of a fire-demon, or father of fire-demons, who would 
destroy the world. 

In the Ragnarok, the world is to be destroyed by fire, as in many 
Christian apocryphal works. It is also to be destroyed by water, for the 
earth will sink into the sea. Celts and other peoples of western Europe 
shared this natural fear ; the sea must one day get the upper hand. 

In short, the Ragnarok, as it is described in the Vqluspd and by 



Snorri, consists of motives drawn from many sources. Some of these 
were influenced by Christian legend, but others were inherent in pagan 
belief. For the latter we must look chiefly to the Vqfprudnismal and to the 
allusions of the scalds. 




Finnur Jonsson, OJfOI . — Finnur Jonsson, Den oldnorske og oldislandske 
Litter aturs Historie, ed. 2, I-III, 1920-1924. 

Fib. — Flateyjarbok, ed. G. Vigfusson and G. R. Unger, I-III, 1860-1868. 
Hkr. — Heimskringla, ed. Bj ami A6albj arnarson, I-I II, 1941-1951. 

J. de Vries, Rel ? — J. de Vries, AUgermanische Religions geschichte, ed. 2, 

I— II, I956-I957- 

SBVS.— Saga-Book of the Viking Club (later Viking Society), 1895 (in 

Skj. — Den norsk-islandske Skjaldedigtning, ed. Finnur Jonsson, A I-II, 
B I-II, 1912-1915. 

SnE. — Edda Snorra Sturlusonar, ed. Finnur Jonsson, 1931. 

SnE. Gylf. — Gylfaginning in SnE., q.v. 

SnE. Sk. — Skaldskaparmal in SnE., q.v. 

Tngl. S. — Ynglinga Saga in Hkr., q.v. 



1. Cf. (5lafur L&russon, Ldg og Saga, 1958, 
60 ff; G. Turville-Petre, Um Cdins- 
djrkun d tslandi, 1958, 2: ff. 

2 . Cf. G. Turville-Petre, The Heroic Age of 
Scandinavia, 1951, 19 ff; further H. 
Amtz, Handbuch der Runenkunde, ed. 2, 
ig44-; R. W. V. Elliott, Runes, 1959, 1 ff. 

3. Hdvamdl 80; cf S. B. F. Jansson, The 
Rimes of Sweden, 1962, 15 ff. 

4. See M. Olsen, Eggjum-Stenens Indskrift 
med de aldre Rimer, 1919; L. Jacobsen, 
Eggjum-Stenen, 1931 ; further Gerd Host, 
Norsk Tidsskrift for sprogvidenskap, XIX, 
i960, 489 ff. 

5. See E. Wesson, Runstenen vid Roks Kyrka, 

6. See Ch. Ill, Th6r’s Hammer and his 

7. Hedenske Kultminder i norske Stedsnavne, I, 
1915; The Farms and Fanes of Ancient 
Norway, 1928; besides numerous papers, 
some of which were reprinted in Norrene 
Studier, 1938. 

8. Especially by E. Wesson in various 
works, including Studier till Sveriges hedna 
mythologi och fomhistoria, 1924; Schwedische 
Ortsnamen und altnordische Mythologie in 
Acta Philologica Scandinavica IV, 1929, 
97 ff; more critical views were ex- 
pressed by J. Sahlgreh, Hednisk gudalara 
och nordiska ortnamn in Namn och Bygd, 
XXXVIII, 1950, i ff. 

9. See G. Knudsen in Nordisk Kultur, 
XXVI (Religionshistorie) , 1942, 28 ff and 

10. See Glafur L&russon, Nordisk Kultur, 
XXVI, 74 ff; idem, Nordisk Kultur, V, 
( Stedsnavn ), 1939, 71 ff. 

11. See Ch. VIII, U1I. 

12. See Ch. XII below. 

1 3. A valuable introduction was provided by 

H. Shetelig and Hj. Falk ( Scandinavian 
Archaeology, 1937), who gave useful notes 
on bibliography. 

1 4. The Gods of Prehistoric Man, 1960, Ch. IV ; 
cf Shetelig and Falk, op. cit., 98 ff. 

15. See Shetelig and Falk, op. cit., 71 ff. 

16. Teutonic Mythology, transl. J. S. Stally- 
brass. III, 1883, XXXIII. 

17. See O. Almgren, Hallristningar och Kult- 
bruk, 1927 . 

18. See Shetelig and Falk, op. cit., 156 ff 

ig. Heimskringla, Prologue; cf Arngrfmur 
J6nsson, Rerum Danicarum Fragmenta, VII. 

20. See Osebergfundet I-III, 1917-28, ed. A.W. 
Brogger, Hj. Falk, H. Shetelig ; further Bj. 
Hougen, Osebergf unnets Billedvev in Viking 
V, 1940,85 ff. Further Plates 8-1 1, 32 etc. 

21. See Kristj&n Eldj&rn, Kuml og Haugfi, 


22. See Ch. X, Ermanaric, Sigur6 and the 

23. De Bello Gallico, VI, 21-4, 

24. See Comelii Taciti de origine et situ Ger- 
manorum, ed. J. G. C. Anderson, 1938, 
Introduction, XIX ff. 

25. Ed. Th. Mommsen, lordanis Romana et 
Getica in Monumenta Germaniae Historica, 

26. Vita Anskarii, ed. G. Waitz, Scriptores 
rerum germanicarum, 1884. See further 
S. U. Palme, Kristendomens genombrott i 
Sverige, 1 959, 48 ff and refs. 

27. Gesta Hammaburgensis Ecclesiae Pontificum, 
ed. B. Schmeidler (Scriptores rerum Ger- 
manicarum), 1917. See Ch. XII below. 

28. See Ch. XV below. 

29. For a survey of this subject see A. Olrik 
and H. Ellekilde, Nordens Gudeverdm, 

I, 1926-51, 94 ff 





Old Morse Poetry 

1. See Jon Helgason, Norges og Islands Digt- 
ning in Nor disk Kultur, VIII, B ( Litteratur - 
historia), 1952, 3 ff. 

2. Facsimile editions : H&ndskriftet Nr. 2365 , 

4to., gl. Kgl. Samling, ed. L. F. Wimmer 
and Finnur Jonsson, 1891, and Codex 
Regius of the Elder Edda, with introduc- 
tion by A. Heusler, 1937. 

3. See Jon Helgason, op. cit., 26 ff. 

4. See especially A. Heusler, Deutsche Vers- 
geschichte I, 1925, 201 ff. 

5. See G. Turville-Petre, Origins of Ice- 
landic Literature, 1953, 55 ff and refs. 

6. See S. Nordal, Voluspd, 1923, 1x7 ff. 

7. Normie Studier, 1938, 130 ff. 

8. The same motive is found in the Saga 
Heidreks Konungs (ed. Ch. Tolkien, i960, 

44). Similarly in the Baldrs Draumar 
(str. 12), 63inn gives himself away by 
asking an unanswerable and incompre- 
hensible question. 

9. See R. Hofler, Edda , Skalden, Saga ( Fest- 
schrift F. Genzmr ), 1952, 1 ff. 

10. Facsimiles: H&ndskriftet Nr. 748, 4to, 
bl. 1-6, ed. Finnur Jdnsson, 1896; Frag- 
ments of the Elder and Tounger Edda, AM. 

748 I and II, 4to. with introduction by 
E. Wesson, 1945. 

11. Maal og Minne, 1951, 1 ff and 1957, 81 ff. 

12. See Jon Helgason, op. cit., 173 ff and 
especially H. Kuhn, Acta Philologica 
S&undinavica XXII, 1952, 65 ff. 

13. See Ch, II, and Ch. XIV. 

14. See p. 14 below. . 

1 5. See H. Schneider, Germtxnische Heldensage, 

I, ed.2, 1962, 246 ff. 

16. Cf Tacitus, Germania II. 

17. For this view see especially S. Bugge, 

The Home of the Eddie Poems, 1899, and 
D. Hofmann, Nordisch-Englische Lehn- 
beziehungen der Wikingerzeit, 1955. 

18. See P. Hallberg in Arkiv for nordisk Filo- 
logi LXIX, 1954, 51 ff. 

19. See J. Young, Arkiv for nordisk Filologi, 
XLIX, 1933, 97 ff. ; further K. von See, 

Acta Philologica Scandinavica, XXIV, 
1957, 1 ff. 

20. I refer particularly to the analytical 
methods employed by H. Kuhn in a 

1, On Stemund see G. Turville-Petre, 
Origins of Icelandic Literature, 1953, 81 ff; 


number of works, e.g. Das Fiillwort of-um 
im altwestnordischen, and in papers in 
Beitrage zur Geschichte der deutschen Sprache 
und Literatur, LVII, 1933, 1 ff. ; LX, 1936, 
431 ff; LXIII, 1939, 178 ff. 

21. Originally the vowel was probably 
short. The etymology is not known. 

22. See Skj. B,I, 22-5. It is not certain that 
all the strophes there collected belong to 
the Haraldskviedi. 

23. 63inn is called ‘the one-eyed consort of 

24. See Ch. II, God of War. 

25. See Histories and Sagas, below. 

26. See L. M. Hollander, The Skalds, 1 945 ; 

G. Turville-Petre, Origins of Icelandic 
Literature, 1953, 26 ff, and references 
there given. 

27. See G. Turville-Petre, Skirnir, 1 954, 3 1 ff, 
for another view see J. de Vries, Ogam 
IX, 1, 1957, 13 ff. 

28. See Ch. VIII, Gefjun. 

29. See Ch. Ill, Thor and the Serpent. 

30. See Ch. VIII, Bragi. 

31. See Ch. VIII, I5unn. 

32. See Ch. Ill, Thor and the Giants. 

33. Ibid. 

34. See Ch. IV. 

35. See Chs. V and VI. 

36. Cf. S. Nordal, Islenzk Menning I, 1942, 

239- ; 

37. See G. Turville-Petre, Origins, 45 ff. 

38. Kristni Saga IX, cf. Ch. Ill, The Wor- 
ship of Thor. 

39. See Cb II, God of Poetry. 

40. For this view see J. de Vries, De Skalden- 
kenningen met mythologischen Inhoud, 1934; 
further Jon Helgason, op. cit., 95; 

H. Kuhn, Zeitschriftfur deutsches Altertum, 
LXXIX, 1942, 133 ^ 

41. Cf. Heimskringla, 01 . Helg. XLIII. 

42. See G. Turville-Petre, Origins, 147. 

43. Cf Kuhn, op. cit. 

44. See Histories and Sagas, below. 

45. See G. Turville-Petre, Modern Language 
Review, 1944, 374-9 1 ; I. L. Gordon, 
Saga-Book of the Viking Society, XIII, III, 
1949-50, 183 ff. 

Histories and Sagas 

further Halldor Hermannsson, Samund 
Sigfusson and the Oddaverjar, 1932. 

2. See Turville-Petre, op. cit., 88 ff and refs. 

3. The most reliable edition is that of 
Finnur Jonsson, 1900. 

4. See especially Jon Johannesson, Gerdir 
Landndmabdkar, 1941. 

5. On the provenance of this passage see 
J6n Johannesson, op. cit., 160 ff. 

6. Cf Turville-Petre, op. cit., 104, 107 and 

7. See Eyrbyggja Saga, ed. Einar Ol. Sveins- 
son, 1935, Introduction. 

8. See Austfirdinga Sggur, ed. J6n J6han- 
nesson, 1950, Introduction, LXIV ff; 
Borgfrbinga Sggur, ed. S. Nordal and 
Gu9ni Jdnsson, 1938, LXXXIII ff ; 
further S. Nordal in Nordisk Kultur 
VIII, B (Litteraturhistoria) , 1952, 190 ff. 

9. Cf Turville-Petre, op. cit., 169 ff. 

10. On their ages see Einar Ol. Sveinsson, 
Dating the Icelandic Sagas, 1958. 

ix. For this view see especially W. Baetke, 
Christliches Lehngut in der Sagareligion, 
I9 ,52. 

12. Tidrande och Diserna, 1949; cf Turville- 
Petre in Saga-Book of the Viking Society, 

XIV, 1953-7. 137 ff. 

13. Ari, Libellus Islandorum, VII. 

14. Cf H. Kuhn, Das nordgermanische Heiden- 
tum in den ersten christlichen Jahrhunderten 
in Z e dschrift fur deutsches Altertum, 
LXXIX. 1942, 33 ff. 

15. See S. Nordal, Hrafnkatla ,- 1940 (also 
translated by R. G. Thomas as Hrafnkels 
Saga Freysgoda, 1958). 

16. See Ch. VII, Freyr — Fro5i — Nerthus 
— fng- 

17. Meaning ‘Sagas of ancient time’. The 
term is modern. 

1 8. See especially A. Heusler, Die Lieder der 
Liicke im Codex Regius in Festschrift H. 
Paul, 1902, i-g8. 

19. See The Saga of King Heidrek, ed. Ch. 
Tolkien, i960. Introduction. 

20. The passage has been very widely dis- 
cussed ; see U. Brown, Saga-Book of the 
Viking Society, XIII, 1947-8, 51 ff; P. G. 
Foote, ibid. XIV, 1955-6, 226 ff; further 
Einar Ol. Sveinsson in Kulturhistorisk 
Leksikon for nordisk Middelalder IV, 1959, 
col. 503. 

21. See U. Brown, op. cit., 65 ff. 

Snorri Sturluson 

1. A select list is given in the bibliography, 
p. 322 below. 

2. See Halldor Hermannsson, Stemund Sig- 
fusson and the Oddaverjar, 1932, 10 ff. 

3. See Einar Ol. Sveinsson, Sagnaritun Odda- 
verja {Studia Islandica I) , 1937. 

4. See Diplomatarium Islandicum 1, 1857-76, 
289 ff. 

5. The name is interpreted variously as 
‘Poetics’ and the ‘Book of Oddi’. An 
older interpretation was ‘Great-grand- 
mother’. See further Sigur5ur Nordal, 
Snorri Sturluson, 1920, 14. 

6. See Nordal, op. cit., g4 ff. 

7. See E. Wesson, introduction to Codex 
Regius of the Younger Edda ( Corpus Codicum 
Islandicorum XIV), 1940. 

8. See Nordal, op. cit., 116 ff. 

9. See Edda Snorra Sturlusonar, ed. Finnur 
Jdnsson, 1931, 16 note. 

10. Cf W. Baetke, Die Gotterlehre der Snorra 
Edda, 1950, p. 18 ff. 

11. See A. Heusler, Die gelehtre Urgeschichte 
im altislandischen Schriftum, 1 908, p. 26 ff. 

12. Cf Heusler, op. cit., i3ff. 

13. Cf G. Turville-Petre in Hommages & 
Georges Dumlzil [Collection Latomus XLV), 
1 960, 209 ff. 

14. See E. Mogk, Z UT Bewertung. der Snorra - 
Edda als religionsgeschichtliche Quelle, 1932, 
7ff - 

15. In many works. See especially Loki, ed. 
2, *959>53 ff- 

16. Cf J. de Vries, Altgermanische Religions- 
geschichte, ed. 2, I, 1956, 43 ff. 

17. See Egils Saga Skalla-Grimssonar, ed. 
S. Nordal, 1933, Introduction. 

18. See Heimskringla, ed. Bjarni A3albjar- 
narson, I, 1941, 7; cf the Prologue to 
6lafs Saga Helga in Heimskringla II, 1945, 

19. See Bjarni A3albjarnarson, Introduction 
to Heimskringla. 

20. It has been supposed that the poem is a 
forgery of the eleventh or twelfth cen- 
tury, but this view has found little sup- 
port. See Bjarni A5albjarnarson, op. cit., 

21. See especially B. Nerman, Det Svenska 
Rikets Vppkomst, 1925, 57 ff; R. W. 
Chambers, Beowulf, ed. 2, 1932, 4 ff. 




22. Cf Bjarni ASalbjarnarson, op. cit., I, 

23. CfE. Wesson, Ynglingasaga, 1952, IX ff. 

24. See Heimskringla, edition cited, I, 58 and 

25. Getica, Chs. 5 and 13. 


1. References apply to Saxonis Grammatici 
Gesta Danorum, ed. A. Holder, 1886; an- 
other edition is Saxonis Gesta Danorum, ed. 
J. Olrik and H. Reeder, 193 1-2. See also 
The First Nine Books of the Danish History 
of Saxo Grammaticus translated by O. 
Elton with introductory material by F. 
York Powell, 1894. 

2. Preface, p. x. 

3. See P. Herrmann, Die Heldensagen des 
Saxo Grammaticus, 1922, 1 ff and refer- 
ences there given. 

4. Kilderne til Sakses Oldhistarie II, 286 ff. 

5. Skaldatal, ed. GuSni Jonsson in Edda 
Snorra Sturlusonar, 1949, 352. 

6. Op. cit., II, 290. 

7. Skaldatal, loc. cit. 

8. Gizur is mentioned in many sources. See 
especially Sturlmga Saga, ed. Jon J6han- 
nesson and others 1, 1946, 60. 

9. See Veraldar Saga, ed. Jakob Benedikts- 
son, 1944, 72. 

10. See G. Turville-Petre, Origins of Icelandic 
Literature, 1953, 195. 

xx. See Flateyjarbdk, ed. G. Vigfusson and 
G. R. Unger, III, 1868, 464. 

12. See Islandske Annaler, ed. G. Storm, 1888, 
120 and 122. 

13. Op. cit., II, 280 ff. 

14. Viking Civilization, revised by H. Elle- 
kilde, 1930, 218. 

15. See Herrmann, op. cit., 15-16. 

16. Published in Spgur Danakonunga ed. C. af 
Petersens and E. Olson, 1 9 1 9-25, 3 ff. 

17. The bibliography of this subject is very 
great. A useful list of works on it is given 
by D. A. Seip, Kulturhistarisk Leksikon for 
nordisk Middelalder II, 1957, Cols. 295-6. 

18. See D. A. Seip, Det norske grunnlag for 
Bravallakvadet in Studier i norsk Sprak- 
historie, 1934, 1 ff. 

19. E.g. by a scholar so cautious as J6n Hel- 
gason, Norges og Islands Digtning in 
Nordisk Kultur VII I,B, 1952, 89. 

20. Bjarni GuSnason, Um Bravallapulu in 
Skirnir CXXXII, 1958, 82 ff. 

21. Prologue, 3. 

22. Heimskringla, 6lafs Saga Helga, Ch. 

23. II, 67. 

24. SnE. Skdld, Ch. 57. 

25. Danmarks Heltedigtning I, 1903, 46 ff. 

26. The Heroic Legends of Denmark translated 
and revised by L. M. Hollander, 1919, 
90 ff. 

27. Ibid., 177 ff 

28. See Amgrimi Jonae Opera Latine Con- 
scripta, ed. J. Benediktsson I, 1950, 
347 - 8 - 

29. Hrdlfs Saga Kraka , ed. D. Slay, i960, 
Ch. 30. 

30. See Ch. XIV. 

31. VIII, 286. 

32. VIII, 290. 

33. VIII, 295. 

34. Gesta Hammaburgensis Ecclesiee Pontificum, 
ed. B. Schmeidler, 1917, IV, Ch. 40. 

35. See Herrmann, op. cit., 592 ff. 

36. See The Saga of King Heidrek the Wise, ed. 
Ch. Tolkien, i960, 66 and 84 ff. 

37. On this debated point see W. Mohr, 
feitschrift fur deutsches Altertum LXXV, 
1938, 217-80. 

38 . See A. Heusler , Die Anfange der isldndischen 
Saga, 1914, 13 ff and refs. 

39. Saxo, I, 25. 

40. Ibid., I, 23. 

41. Ibid., I, 32. 

42. See Ch. II, God of War. 

43. Saxo, I, 24. 

44. Cf Olrik, Kilderne, I, 31. 

45. Saxo, II, 44 and III, 73. 

46. Ibid., I, 30; III, 74-5; VI, 185. 

47. Ibid., IX, 301. 

48. Ibid., I, 25; III,8i. 

49. Ibid., I, 19-20. 

50. Ibid., Ill, 70. 

51. Ibid., III,8o. 

52. See Ch. IV. 


God of Poetry 

1. While Bodn is probably related to Old 
English byden , M. Icel. bydna (vessel, vat), 
S6n has not been convincingly ex- 
plained. In some kennings it is used as a 
‘basic’ word for ‘blood’ (e.g. Sonar 6fnir, 
‘snake of blood’, ‘sword’), but this usage 
may derive from the name of Son as the 
vessel in which the blood was stored. 
See Alexander Johannesson, Islandisches 
etymologisches Worterbuch, 1956, 764; J. de 
Vries, Altnordisches Etymologisches Worter- 
buch, 1961, s.v. S6n. Further Hj. Lin- 
droth, Maal og Minne, 1915, 175. 

2. Unless the order of the strophes is 
changed and made to conform with the 
sequence of Snorri’s tale. Str. 106 must 
then be placed before str. 105. 

2a. On the heron of oblivion see A. Holts- 
ma'rk (in Arv, XIII, 1957, 21 ff.) 

3. Skj. B, I, 38, 6 (Egill) . 

4. Ibid., 123, 33 (Einar Sk&laglamm). 

5. Ibid., 34, 1. 

6. Ibid., 80, 46 (Korm&k). 

7. Ibid., 295, 2 (Hofgar 5 a-Ref). 

8. Ibid., 128, 1 (Ulf Uggason). 

9. Ibid., 89, 2. 

10. Ibid., 387 (Steinthor). 

11. Ibid., 43, 4 (Egill). 

12. Ibid., 30, 1 (Hpfudlausn) . 

13. Ibid., 42, 6 (Egill). 

14. Ibid., 464, 3. 

15. Ibid., 34, 2 (Egill, Sonatorrek). 

16. Ibid., 153, 15. 

17. Ibid., 45, 15. 

18. Ibid., 1 3 1, I (Eysteinn Valdason). 

19. Ibid., 385, 4. 

20. Ibid., 533, 31. 

21. Ibid., 104, 36. 

22. Ibid., 167, 1. 

23. Ibid., 100, 20. 

24. Ibid., 60, 1 (Eyvind). 

25. Ibid., 376, 5. 

26. Ibid., 173, III, 1. 

27. Ibid., 158, 5. 

28. SnE. Skdld, Ch. 5. 

29. Skj. B, I, 1 17, 1. 

30. See especially E. Mogk, Novellistiscke 
Darstellung mythologischer Stoffe Snorris und 
seiner Schule, 1923, 23 ff. 

31. See A. G. van Hamel, The mastering of 
the mead in Studia Germanica till. E. A. 
Kock, 1934, 76 ff 

32. See R. Stiibe, Kvasir und der magische 
Gebrauck des Speichels in Festchrift E. 
Mogk 1924, 500 ff. 

33. Ed. A. le Roy Andrews, igog, Ch. I. 

34. Lagdi Jyrir dregg hrdka sinn. 

35. See Stiibe, op. cit., especially 504 ff. 

36. Cf Alexander Jdhannesson, op. cit., 41 1 ; 
de Vries, op. cit., s.v. Kvasir and refs, 
there given. 

37. See Loki, ed. 2 (German), 1959, 70 ff 
and note 24. 

38. Gf G. Sverdrup, Rauschtrank und Labe- 
trank im Glauben unset er Vorfakren, 1 941, 
esp. 3 ff. 

39. See Sverdrup, op. cit., 11 ff; A. Olrik, 
Skjaldemjoden in Edda, 1926, 236 ff. 

40. See T. F. O’Rahilly, Early Irish History 
and Mythology, 1946, 326 ff; Feis Tighe 
Chondin, ed. M. Joynt, 1936, 40-1. 

41. Vedische My thologie I, 1891, 3ff; Kleine 
Ausgabe, 1910,67-79. 

42. Vedic Mythology, 1897, 1048"; cf J. 
Gonda, Die Religionen Indiens 1 , 1 960, 62 ff. 

43. See Macdonnell, op. cit., 152. 

44. Op. cit., 239. 

Lord of the Gallows 

1. Seldu MS. 

2. It is not altogether clear how runar 
should be interpreted here. It most 
probably means the runic letters and the 
magical force which went with them. 

3. Patan MS. 

4. Studier over de nordiske Gude- og Heltesagns 
Oprindelse, 1889, 291 ff. 

.5. Disputatio inter Mariam et Crucem, ed. 

R. Morris, Legends of the Holy Rood, 1871, 
200 and 134. 

6. See Bugge, op. cit. 309. 

7. Emended from maet. See Bugge, op. cit., 
309, footnote 2. 

8. Skj. B, I, 37, 22. 
g. SnE. Skdld, 44. 

10. Skj. B, I, 4, 2. The interpretation has 
been questioned. 



11. Ibid., 94 (Helgi Trausti), 

12. Ibid., 1 14 and 182. 

13. Ibid., 136, 1. 

14. Ibid., 60, 1. 

15. Ibid., B, I, 199 (Thorbjora Brunason). 

16. It has often been said that the expres- 
sion gefinn C)dni ( Hdvamdl 138) does not 
mean ‘sacrificed’ but rather ‘dedicated 
to Gdinn’. The verb gefa is certainly 
used with the latter meaning in Eyr- 
byggja Saga VII, but as Snorri uses it 
{Yngl. S. XXV) it means ‘sacrifice’. 

17. Yngl. S. VII. 

18. Baldrs Draumar . 

19. Opinion on this point is divided. See 

S. Nordal, Vbluspd, 1923, 20-1. 

20. On the veneration of waterfalls see 
Gh. XII. 

21. Skj. B., II, 1, 2. 

22. De Bell. Goth. II, 15, 23. 

23. Getica, V, 42. 

24. Yngl. S. XLIII. 

25. See A. Noreen, Ynglingatal, 1925, 245 ff 
and refs, there given. 

26. Yngl. S. XV. 

27. Ed G. Storm in Monumenta Hislorica Nor- 
veghe, 1880, 98; further G. Turville- 
Petre, Origins of Icelandic Literature, 1953, 

28. Yngl. S. XXV. 

29. Cf H. M. Chadwick, The Cult of Othin, 
1899, 15 ff. 

30. Fib. II, 72. 

31. Vgluspd 24. 

32. See Kristni Saga XII ; Eyrbyggja Saga X. 

33. See F. Strom, On the Sacral Origin of the 
Germanic Death Penalties, i 94 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 j II 8ff. 
Strom (119} argues that the word meidr 
does not mean ‘tree’, but rather ‘pole, 
gallows’ (cf R. Gleasby and G. Vig- 
fusson, Icelandic-English Dictionary, 1874, 

s.v.), but on p. 143 Strom translates 
meidr in Hdvamdl 138 as ‘tree’. In poetry 
the word is not infrequently used for a 
living tree. 

34. See Chadwick, op. cit., 73 ff; cf E. Mag- 
nusson, Yggdrasill, Odins Hestr, 1895, 6 ff. 
For entirely different views see F. R. 
Schroder, Ingunar-Freyr, 1941, 9 ff. 

35. Hgrva Sleipnir (Rope Sleipnir), Ynglin- 
gatal 14 {Skj. B, I, 9, 14). 

36. Book VII, 230 ff. 

37. Haleygjatal 6 (Skj. B, I, 61, 6). 

38. Skj. B, I, 239, 1. 

39. See esp. G. Gjessing, Hesten i ferhistorisk 
kunst og kultus. Viking VII, 1943, 5~*43- 

40. Cf Hdvamdl 145 : ey sir til gildis gjgf. 

41. SnE. Gylf. 5- 

42. Cf the proverb : modurhradrum verdi menu 
likastir ( Pals Saga in Biskupa Sogur I, 
1858, 134. 

43. Baldrs Draumar 2. 

44. E.g. Vgluspd 2. 

45. V afprudnismal , 43. 

46. On the significance of the number nine 
see esp. E. Mogk in Reallexikon der 
germanischen Alter lumskunde (ed. J. Hoops) 
III, 1915-16, 312 ff. 

47. See Ch. VI. 

48. Cf S. Nordal, Islenzk Meaning I, 1942, 
210 ff. 

49. See A. G. van Hamel, Odinn Hanging on 
the Tree in Acta Philologica Scandinavian 
VII, 1932, 260 ff. 

50. On this view see especially R. Pipping, 
Oden i galgen in Studier i nordisk Filologi, 
XVIII, 2, 1928, iff. 

51. Evidence is summarized by J. de Vries, 
Rel. 2, 1, 333 ff. See further O. Hofler, 
Kultische Geheimbiinde der Germanen, 1934, 

52. The Dying God, 1919, 43- 

God of War 

1. SnE. Skdld 6. 

2. See especially A. Olrik, Danmarks Helte- 
digtning II, 1910, 257 and A. H. Krappe, 
Etudes de Mythologie et de Folklore ger- 
maniques, 1928, 70 ff. 

3. See Hj. Falk, Odensheite, 1924, 18. 

4. See Ch. X, Starkad. 

5. Str. 24, prose; cf Ch. X, Starkad. 

6. See Ch. X, Harald Wartooth. 

7. See Ch. Tolkien, The Saga of King Heidrek 
the Wise , 1960, 50, footnote and Intro- 
duction XVII and refs. 

8. Skj. B, I, 672. 

9. Ibid., B, II, 143. 

10. Ibid., 136. 

11. See God of Poetry, above. 

12. Skj. B, I, 59, 15. 

13. See Ch. X, Harald Wartooth. 

14. Um utgarda fmrdi frendr sina alia ( Gisla 
Saga II, Ch V). 

15. Hkr. Hdk. G 6 d. Ch. 14. 

16. See Falk, op. cit., 25. • 

17. Lokasenna, str. 22. 

18. Vglsunga Saga, Chs. II-I2. 



19. Saxo, Gesta Danorum, VII, 247. 

20. Sggubrot af fomkonmgum VIII. 

21. Skj. B, 1, 94; cf Landnamabok, ed. Finnur 
Jonsson, 1900, 117. 

22. Skj. B, I, 132. 

23. Ibid., 1 18. 

24. Ibid., 24. 

25. Ibid., 23, 11. 

26. SnE. Gylf. 24. 

2 7 . Vafpriidnismdl 4 1 . 

28. Reckoning on the decimal system, some 
scholars have concluded that the fallen 
warriors numbered 432,000 (not 614, 
400), and have seen oriental influences in 
this number. (See F. R. Schroder, Ger- 
manentum und Hellenismus, 1924, 15 ff; 
cf O. Hofler, Kultische Geheimbiinde der 
Germanen, 1934, 153). It is, however, im- 
probable that the early Norsemen could 
think precisely in such high numbers as 
these. The author of the Grimnismal 

probably meant only that the numbers 
of doors and of warriors were beyond 
comprehension. Cf M. Olsen, Act Philo- 
logica Scandinavica VI, 1931-2, 151-2. 
This paper was reprinted in Horrone 
Studier, 1938, 109 ff. 

29. Teutonic Mythology (transl. J. S. Stally- 
brass), II, 1883, 633-4. 

30. Cf Olsen, op. cit., 155 ff. 

31. Especially by O. Hofler, op. cit., 152-4 
and J. de Vries, Rel. 2 , II, 378, note 3. 

32. See Olsen, op. cit., 164. 

33. As in voir Id par a sandi (the slain bodies 
lay on the sand), Skj. B, I, 24. 

34. See A. Olrik and H. Ellekilde, Hardens 
Gudeverden, I, 1926-51, 472 ff and refs, 
given on p. 578. 

35. Gf W. von Unwerth, Untersuchungen fiber 
Totenkult und Odinnverehrung bei Nord- 
germanen und Lappen, 1 91 1, 96 ff. 

Father of Gods and Men 

1. SnE. Gylf. 6; cf Grimnismal 48. 8. See Ch. V below. 

2. See Ch. VI. g. Vglsunga Saga, ed. M. Olsen, 1906-8, 

3. See Odinn’s Eye and Woden-Wotan, Gh. 1. 


4. See above. Lord of the Gallows. 

5. SnE. Gylf. 6. 

6. Ibid. 

7. Askr undoubtedly means ‘Ash-tree’; 
Embla is of doubtful origin. See Gh. XVI. 
See S. Bugge, The Home of the Eddie 
Poems (transl. W. H. Schofield), 1899, 
XXVIII; further J. de Vries, Altnor- 
disches etymologisches Worterbuch, 1961, s.v. 

10. SnE. Prologue Ch. 4; cf Aragrimur 
Jonsson, Rerum Danicarum Fragmenta 
( Bibliotheca Arnamagmeana, IX, ed. Jakob 
Benediktsson), 1950, 333. 

11. SnE., Prologue, Ch. 6. 

12. See esp. A. Heusler, Die gelehrte Urge - 
schichte im altislandischen Schriftum, 1908, 
10 ff. 

13. SnE., Prologue, 6; cf Yngl. S. VIII. 

Odinn' s Animals 

1. SnE. Gylf. 25; see Ch. V below. 

2. The Saga of King Heidrek the Wise , ed. Ch. 
Tolkien, 1960,44. 

3. See Ch. VII, Freyr-Friidi. 

4. See The Cult of Odinn below; cf G. 
Gjessing in Viking VII, 1943, 88 ff. 

5. Gf F. Strom, Diser, Nornor, Valkyrjor, 
I 954> 41 ff, but see J. de Vries, Altnor- 
disches etymologisches WSrterbuch, 1961, 

6. See Gjessing, op. cit., 57 ff; K. Eldj&m, 
Kuml og Haugfe, 1956, 246 ff; further 
H. Schiick, Studier i nordisk Litteratur-och 

7. See Bj. Hougen, Viking, 1940, 94 ff 

8. Skj. B, I, 93, 13. 

9. Baldrs Draumar 2; SnE. Gylf. 33. 

10. Gisla Saga Surssonar, XXX, 

11. Sturlunga Saga, ed. J6n Jdhannesson and 
others, I, 1946, p. 98. 

12. See J6n Araason, Islenzkar PjdSsogur og 
YEfintyri, II, 1864, 98. 

13. See Schiick, op. cit., 176 ff. 

14. See O. Hofler, Kultische Geheimbiinde der 
Germanen, I, 1934, 48 ff. 

15. See Hj. Falk, Odensheite, 1924, esp. 30 ff; 
further J. de Vries, Rel. 2 , II, 65. 

Religionshistoria, II, 1904, 163 ff 16. Cf Gjessing, op. cit., 80 ff 



17. SnE. Gylf. 25. 

18. SeeJ. Grimm, Teutonic Mythology (transl. 
J. S. Stallybrass), I, 1900, 147. B. Sijmons 
and H. Gering ( Kommentar zu den Liedern 
der Edda (i, 1927, 194) take munr as 
‘power of distinguishing' ( Unterscheidungs- 
vermogen). Finnur J6nsson (Lexicon Poeti- 
cumantiqm linguce septentrionalis, ed. 2 , 193 x, 
s.v. muninn ) evidently associated Muninn 
with the verb muna (to remember). See 
further A. H. Krappe, Etudes de Mytho- 
logy et de Folklore germaniques, 1 928, 30 ff. 

19. Gf F. Strom, Den doendes makt, 1947, 56. 

20. E.g. in Havardar Saga fsfirdings (ed. 
Gudni Jonsson in Vestfirdinga Sggur, 1943), 
Gh. 20. 

21. Skj. B, 1 , 48, 26 ; see also Egils Saga Skalla- 
Grimssonar, ed. S. Nordal, 1933, Gh. 61. 

22. Skj. B, I, 302, 2. 

23. Ibid., 216, 2. 

24. Ibid., 430, 13. 

25. Ibid., 357, 2. 

26. For examples see J. de Vries, De Skalden- 
kenningenmetmythologischeninhoud, 1934, 17. 

27. Skj. B, I, 15, 4 (ThjoSolf, Haustlgng). 

28. Ibid. , X29, 10 (Em Uggason). 

29. Ibid., 158, 8 (HallfreS) ; of A. OIrik and 

H. Ellekilde, Nor dens Gudeverden I, 
1926-51, 162. 

30. Ibid., 179, 3. 

31. Ibid., 463, 6. 

32. Ibid., 96,2. For further examples of ken- 
nings of this type see J. de Vries, op. cit., 
15 ff, and especially W. von Unworth, 
Untersuchungen iiber Totenkult und Odinn- 
verehnmg bei Nordgermanen und Lappen, 
1911, 103. 

33. Skj. B, I, 107. 

34. Ibid., 90. 

35. Ibid., 22-5. The title is modern. 

36. Ibid., 88, 9. 

37. Ibid., 209, n. 

38. Ibid., 43, 7 (Egill). 

39. Ibid., 150, 9. 

40. Ibid., 146. 

41 . Ibid., 32, 1 x . For many more examples of 
kennings of this type, see R. Meissner, 
Die Kenningar der Skalden, 1921, 1 19 ff. 

42. See Meissner, op. cit., esp. 291 ff. 

43. Skj. B, I, 45, 12 (Egill). 

44. Ibid., 325, 17. 

45. Jbid., 341, 10. 

46. E.g. Reginsmdl 20; Njdls Saga, Ch. 79. 

47. See Two Saxon Chronicles, ed. G. Plum- 
mer and J. Earle, I, 1892, p. 77. 

48. See Asser’s Life of King Alfred, ed. W. H. 
Stevenson, 1904, 265-7. 

49. Ed. A. Campbell, 1949, 24; of my note 
to this edition, 96-7. 

50. See G. E. Wright, The Cultivation of Saga 
in Anglo-Saxon England, 1939, 127 ff and 
267 ff. 

51. Reginsmdl, 18. 

52. Ed. S. Nordal, 1913-16, Chs. 11-iQ. 

53. Ed. J6n Johannesson in Austfirdinga 
Sggur, 1950, Ch. 2. 

54. Gh. 157. 

55. On Brjans Saga see Einar Cl. Sveinsson, 
Urn Njdlu 1 , 1 933, 49 ff, and A. J. Goed- 
heer, Irish and Norse Traditions about the 
Battle of Clontarf, 1 938, 87 ff. 

56. Hkr. 6 l. Trygg., Gh. 27. 

57. See Ch. XIII below. 

58. SnE. Gylf. 25. 

59. Helga Kvida Hundingsbana I, 13. 

60. Skj. B, I, 460, 1 1 . 

61. Ibid., 43,6 (Egill). 

62. Ibid., 307, 7 (Arn6r). For more kennings 
of this type see Meissner, op. cit., 291 ff. 

63. Cf Krappe, op. cit., 18 ff. 

64. Skj. B, I, 165, 7 (Eiriksmal). 

65. SnE. Gylf. 38; Vafprudnismal 53; cf 
Vgluspd 53. 

66. SnE. Gylf . 19. For kennings alluding to 
this see Meissner, op. cit., 255. 

67. SnE. Gylf, 6 ; according to the Vafprudnis- 
mdl (45-7), Fenrir himself will swallow 
the sun. See further A. OIrik, Ragnarok 
(transl. W. Ranisch), 1922, 36 ff. 

68. See B. S. Phillpotts, The Elder Edda and 
Ancient Scandinavian Drama, 1920, esp. 
1 15 ff. 

69. Skj. B, I, 23, 8 and 25, 2 x (Hrqfnsmdl) ; 
cf Vatnsdcela Saga, Gh. g. 

70. Vglsmga Saga (ed. M. Olsen, 1906-8), 
Gh. 8. 

71. See O. Hofler, op. cit., 56 ff. 

72. Ibid., 22 ff. 

73. Historia de gentibus septentrionalibus. Book 

74. Cf Hofler, op. cit., esp. 36 ff and refer- 
ences; further A. OIrik and H. Elle- 
kilde, Nor dens Gudeverden II, 1951, 938 ff. 

75. Skj. B, I, 142, 12 (Porsdrdpa). 

76. Agrip af Ndregs Konunga Sggum, ed. Finnur 
Jonsson, 1929, Ch. 1. 



6 Sinn’s Names 

1. SnE. Gylf. 11. 

2. See Hj Falk, Odensheite, 1924. 

3. See H. Gering and B. Sijmons, Kommen- 
tar zu den Liedern der Edda , 1 , 1927, 27 and 

4. See Ch. IX, below. 

5. On Fjplnir see esp. W. von Unwerth, 
Arkiv fir nordisk Filologi, 1917, 320 ff. 

6. See G. Turville-Petre, ‘Thurstable’ in 
English and Medieval Studies presented to 

J. R. R. Tolkien, 1962, 241 ff. 

7. See Falk, op. cit., 23. 

8. Grimnismdl 34. 

9. Helgakvida Hjgroardssonar. 

10. On this problem see S. Bugge, The Home 
of the Eddie Poems (transl. W. H. Scho- 
field), 1899, 286; further O. Hofler in 
Edda, Skalden, Saga (Festschrift Genzmer), 
1952, esp. 67, footnote; also Falk, op. 
cit., 26. 

11. See Falk, op. cit., 22. 

Odinn’ s Eye 

1. Skj. B, I, 24, 12. 

2. On Mfmir see Gh. V, below. 

3. SnE. Gylf. 8. 

4. See Gh. VIII, Tyr. 

5. See Ch. VI, below. 

6. SnE. Gylf, 6, 9, 40, 68. 

7. Skj. B, I, 158, 6 (HallfreS) ; ibid., 388. 

8. See M. Olsen, The Farms and Fanes of 
Ancient Norway, 1928, 318 ff. 

9. See A. H. Smith, English Place-name Ele- 
ments, II, 1956, 104 ff and refs.; also 
E. Hellquist, Svensk Etymologisk Ordbok, 
ed. 3, II, 1957, s.v. skdlf. 

10. See further Woden-Wotan, below. 

1 1 . Op. cit. , 32 1 ff. 

12. Snorri (SnE. Gylf. 9) seems to say that 
Odinn is the owner of Vdlaskj£lf, but the 
text is questionable. 

13. SnE. Gylf, 16. 

14. See Gh. XVI, below. 

15. The name Skilfingar is applied to a dy- 
nasty in the Hyndluljod (11), and a 
genealogy preserved in the Fib. (I, 25), 
although it is not made clear which this 
dynasty is. 

16. See esp. F. Laffler, Arkiv fir nordisk Filo- 
logi, X, 1894, 166 ff; E. Bjorkman, Namn 
och Bygd, VII, 1919, 163 ff. 

Cult of Odinn 

1 . Baldrs Draumar 4 ; Tngl. S. VII. 1 1 . I am grateful to K. Hald for allowing me 

2. Hdvamal, 146 ff. to read his paper on The Cult of Odin in 

3. Tng. S. VI. Danish Place-names, to be published in 

4. The most thorough study of seidr is that Saga-Book of the Viking Society. 

ofD. Stromback, Sejd, 1935. 12. Hedenske Kultminder i norske Stedsnavne, 

5. The word ergi appears to cover many I, 1915, 63 ff and passim ; Nordisk Kultur 

despicable and unmanly practices, e.g. XXVI (Religionskistorie), 1942, 60 ff. 

homosexuality, witchcraft, cowardice. 13. Such views were discussed by H. M. 
See Clafur Llrusson, Log og Saga, 1958, Chadwick, The Cult of Othin, 1899,49 

144 ff. and by J. de Vries, Tijdsckrift voor neder- 

6. Tngl. S. VII. landse TaalenLetterkunde,IA\, 1933, 1651?. 

7. Lokasenna 24; cf Saxo, Gesta, III, 80 ff. 14. See A. OIrik and H. Ellekilde, Nordens 

8. See G. Turville-Petre, Um Gdinsdyrkun a Gudeverden I, 1926-51, 513. 

Islandi (Studia Islandica XVII), 1958 and 15. See M. Olsen, The Farms and Fanes of 
refs, there given. Ancient Norway, 1928, 227 ff. 

9. See Gh. Ill, Worship of Thor, below. . 16. Gf A. Holtsmark, Vitazgjafi in Studier i 

10. Hrafnkels Saga Freysgoda, Gh. II; in the norrm diktning, 1956, 46 ff. 

saga, Hxafnkell is said to be son of Hall- 17. Ed. Finnur Jonsson, 1902-3, Ch. II, 19. 

fred and is given the title Freysgodi. In 18. Egils Saga IV ; cf Hkr. Har. Hdrf. VI. 

the Landndmabok (ed. Finnur Jonsson, 19. Gf 6lafur L&russon, Log og Saga, 1958, 
1900), 90 and 205, he is son of Hrafn, 55 ff. 

and the title is not applied to him. 20. Cf Jon Johannesson, fslendinga Saga I, 



1956, 27 ff. Entirely different and alto- 
gether eccentric views were expressed by 
Bardi Gu6mundsson, Uppruni Islendinga, 
I959> 109 ff 

a 1. Fib. I, 563-4; cf Bjarni Adalbjarnarson 
in Hkr. 1, 1941, Introduction. 

22. Skj. B, I, 164 ff ( Eiriksmal ). 

23. Ibid., 22, 4. 

24. Ibid., 38, 3. 

25. See G. Turville-Petre, The Heroic Age of 
Scandinavia, 1951, 92, 112. 

26. Cf M. Olsen, Nordisk Kultur, XXVI, 66 ; 
Hedenske Kultminder i norske Stedsnavne, 
I, 205 ff. 

27. Hkr. Har. Hdrf., XXI. 

28. See Turville-Petre, op. cit., 120-1. 

29. See Lord of the Gallows, above, and 
Ch. X, Starkad. 


1. Historia Ecclesiastica I, 15. 

2. See E. Hackenberg, Die Stammtafeln der 
angelsachsischen Konigreiche , 1918. 

3. See Gh. IV, below. 

4. See Odinn’s Names, above. 

5. Ed. A. Campbell, The Chronicle of JEthel- 
weard, 1962, 7. 

6. Anglo-Saxon Magic, 1948, 188. 

7. Cf Storms, op. cit., 195. 

8 . Anglo-Saxon Dialogues of Salomon and 
Saturn, ed. J. M. Kemble, II, 1847, 192. 

9. Ed. B. Dickins, Runic and Heroic Poems, 
1915, 12-13. 

10. Ibid., 28. 

1 1 . Useful collections are given by R. Jente, 
Die mythologischen Ausdriicke irn alten- 
glischen Wortschatz, 1921, 77 ff; E. A. 
Philippson, Germanisches Heidentum bei den 
Angelsachsen, 1929, 156 ff. See further B. 
Dickins, English Names and Old English 
Heathenism ( Essays and Studies by Members 
of the English Association, XIX, 154 ff); 
F. M. Stenton, Transactions of the Royal 
Historical Society, XXIII, 1941, 1 ff 

12. See J. E. B. Gover, A. Mawer and F. M. 
Stenton, The Place-names of Wiltshire, 
*939. PP- 3*8 and XIV. 

13. On the alternation between the forms 
Woden and Weden see A. H. Smith, 
English Place-name Elements, II, 1956, 272. 

14. See A. Olrik and H. Ellekilde, Nordens 

30. De Bello Gallico, VI, 22 ; cf Turville- 
Petre, Um Gdinsdfrkun d Islandi, 1958, 

31. Cf Olrik and Ellekilde, op. cit., I, 533. 

32. Cf Olsen, The Farms and Fanes Of Ancient 
Norway, 284 ; E. Wesson, Acta Philologica 
Scandinavica IV, 1929, IOO ff. 

33. See Olrik and Ellekilde, op. cit., 1, 541-2, 

544> 5*3> 5*7, 4°9> 474'5- 

34. See God of War, above; further A. 
Mawer, Acta Philologica Scandinavica, 

vn, 15. 

35. Afangar II, 1944, 103 ff 

36. Cf Holtsmark, op. cit., esp. 55 ff; cf M. 
Olsen in Maal og Minne, 1 934, 92 ff. 

37. See G. Turville-Petre, Viga-Glums Saga, 
61 ff. 


Gudeverden I, 1926-51, 474 and 510. 

15. Cf Philippson, op. cit., 158-9. 

1 6. See Gover, Mawer and Stenton, op. cit., 


17. Ibid., 15—16 and XIV ; cf A. H. Smith, 
op. cit., I, 1956, 2 jo. 

18. Aslfrics Lives of Saints, ed. W. Skeat, 
II, igoo, 264; The Homilies of Wulfstan, 
ed. D. Bethurum, 1957, 223 and notes 
P- 333 ff ! Anglo-Saxon Dialogues of Salo- 
mon and Saturn, ed. J. M. Kemble, II, 
1847, 122-3. 

19. See Ch. Ill, Thor-Thunor, below. 

20. See Ch. V, below. 

21. See especially J. Grimm, Teutonic Mytho- 
logy (transl. J. S. Stallybrass), I, 1900, 
134 ff. 

22. See Ch. IV, below. 

23. See K. Helm, Altgermanische Religions- 
geschichte I, 1913, 35 6ff i further J. de 
Vries, Rel. 2 , II, 28 ff 

24. Bell. Gall. VI, 17. 

25. Getica V, 40-1. 

26. E.g. S. Bugge, The Home of the Eddie 
Poems (transl. W. H. Schofield) 1899, 227. 

27. See R. Much, Die Germania des Tacitus, 
ed. 2, 1959, 339 ff; further O. Hofler, 
Edda, Skalden, Saga ( Festschrift F. Genz- 
mer), 1952, I ff 

28. Havamdl 148; cf Tngl. S. VI. 

29. Cf J. de Vries, op. cit., I, 322. 




1. Grimnismdl 4, 24; StiE. Gylf. ro. called the serpent ‘the belt of all lands’ 

2. Harbardsljod 23. {nllra landa umbgjqrd, Skj. B, I, 6). The 

3. Cf Prymskvida 18 and the story of Hrung- motive was often repeated. 

nir quoted in Thor and Giants below. 5. Plate 22. 

4. On the name Jgrmungandr see J. de Vries, 6. See Ch. I, Introductory. 

La Valeur religieuse du mot germanique Ir- 7. Ibid. 

min in Cahiers du Sud, 1952, 18 ff; G. 8. See F. R. Schroder, Arkiv for nordisk 
Turville-Petre, Thurstable in English and Filologi, LXX, 1955, J ff 

Medieval Studies Presented to J. R. R. Tol- 9. SnE. Gylf. 32. 
kirn, 1962, 241 ff. One of the oldest scalds 10. Ibid., 38. 

Thor and the Giants 

Krapp and E. van Kirk Dobbie, 1936, 6, 

12. See further F. R. Schroder, Germanisch- 
Romanische Monatschrift, XXVI, 1938, 
81 ff. 

13. Reconstructed text in Skj. B, I, 139 ff. 
The most detailed commentary is that of 
W. Kiil, Arkiv for nordisk Filologi, LXXI, 
1956, 89 ff 

14. Str. 12 ; see Kiil, op. cit. 

15. Cf Kill, op. cit., 89. 

16. On Gudmund see Ch. Tolkien, The Saga 
of King Heidrek the Wise, i960, 84 ff. 

Hammer and Goats 

1. Saxo, III, 73. Arkiv for nordisk Filologi, XXXVII, 1921, 

2. See A. Johannesson, Islandisches Etymo- 201 ff. 

logisches Wdrterbuch, 1956, 677; J. de 14. See M. Olsen, op. cit., and Nordisk Kultur 
Vries, Altnordisches Etymologisches Worter- VI (Runorna), ed. O. von Friesen, 1933, 

buch, 1961, s.v. Mjgllnir ; further T. F. 121 ff, 136 ff, 125 ff. 

O’Rahilly, Early Irish History and Mytho - 15. A list was given by R. Skovmand, Aar- 

logy, 1946, 52 ff. beger for nordisk Oldkyndighed og Historic, 

3. Ragnarsdrdpa 15 (Skj. B, I, 3). 1942, 63-5. See further S.U. Palme, 

4. See previous section. Kristendomens genombrott i Sverige, 1959, 

5. See F. von der Leyen, Die Goiter dcr 99 ff. 

Germanen, 1938, 45 ff, and 233. 16. See A. Bjorn and H. Shetelig, Viking 

6. Fib. 1, 319-21 ; cf Hkr. 6 l. Trygg. LXIX ; Antiquities in Great Britain and Ireland, IV, 

Oddr Snorrason, Saga 6 lafs Tryggvason- 1940, 43. 

ar, ed. F. Jonsson, 1932, 163-4. 17. See K. Eldjarn, Kami og Haugfe, 1956, 

7. See J. de Vries, Rel. 2 , II, 1 13. 325-7; 6l. Briem, Heidim Sidur d Islandi, 

8. SnE. Gylf. 26-31. J945> 3 1 - 

9. See G. W. von Sydow, Danske Studier, 18. See Eldjarn, op. cit., 362-3. 

1910, 65 and 145 ff. 19- Half redar Saga, V I. 

10. See S. Wikander, Arv, VI, 1950, 90 ff. 20. Alt helga land in Festskrift till. Axel Hager- 

11. See especially W. Baetke, Das Heilige im shorn, 1928, esp. 215 ff. 

Germanischen, 1942, 106 ff. 21. See Diplomatarium Islandicum, XII, 1932, 

12. SnE. Gylf. 33. 1 ff. 

13. See E. Wessen , Runstenen vid Roks Kyrka, 22. Ed. Finnur Jonsson, 1900, Sturlubok 

1958, 55-6 and refs. ; further M. Olsen, Ch. 257. 

1. Harbardsljod 23; Prymskvida 18. 

2. Skj. B, I, 127. 

3. Ibid., B, I, 135. 

4. See H. L. Ljungberg, Tor I, 1947, 179 ff 

5. Ragnarsdrdpa 17 (Skj. B, I, 4, 17), 

6. Lokasenna 63. 

7. Kormaks Saga, V. 

8. Ragnarsdrdpa 1 (Skj. B, I, 1, 1). 

9. Cf J. de Vries, Rel. 2 , II, 124. 

10. SnE. Skald. 25. 

11. See Blickling Homilies, ed. R. Morris, 
1874-80, 163, 30; Exeter Book, ed. G. P. 




23. Gf Palme, op. cit., 99 ff. 

24. Cf Ch. II, God of War. 

25. See Gh. XIII. 

26. See E. Mogk in Reallexikon der germ. Alter- 
tumskunde,ed. J. Hoops, II, i9 I 3~ I 5» 363. 

27. Cf Ljungberg, op. cit., 134 ff. 

28. See Jon Arnason, fslenzkar Pjddsogur og 
JEfintjri , I, 1862, 445; Jonas Jonasson, 
Islenzkir Pjdbhtettir, 1934, 401-2. 

29. Hkr., Hdk. God. XVII. 

30. SnE. Skdld. 44. 

31. SnE. Gylf. ix. 

32. Some further examples of magic belts 
are cited by H. Gering and B. Sijmons, 
Kommentar zu den Liedern der Edda, 
I, 1927, 429. See also J. de Vries, Rel. 1 , 
1, 291 ff. 

The Worship of Thor 

1. SnE. Gylf. 25, Skdld. 25. 

2. Ibid., Skdld. 12. 

3. Text from Skj. B, 1, 127. 

4. Ibid., 135. 

5. F. R. Schroder, Germanisch-Romanische 
Monatschrift, XXVII, 1939, 339, re- 
marks on interesting parallels, suggest- 
ing that Thor’s hymns are relics of Indo- 
European heritage. 

6. See Ch. I, Old Norse Poetry. 

7. Hermann P&Isson, Skirnir, 1956, 187-92. 

8. See J. de Vries, Contributions to the Study of 
Othin ( Folklore Fellows Communications, 
XXXIII, 2, No. 94, 1931) esp. 46 ff. 

9. See G. Turville-Petre, Um Obinsdjrkun d 
Islandi ( Studia Islandica 17), 1958. 

xo. Some names compounded with Frey- are 
found, and a number of which the first 
element is Ing-. See Gh. VII, Freyr 3. 

1 1 . Examples in the Eyrbyggja Saga XI, VII ; 
see further Hauksbdk, ed. F. Jdnsson, 
1892, 503-4. 

12. See Ol. L&russon, Nordisk Kultur V 
(Stedsnavn), 1939, 72 ; Ol. Briem, Heibinn 
Sibur d Islandi, 1945, 17 ff. 

13. Ed. F. Jonsson, 1900, 217. 

14. Chs. III-IV, IX-X. 

15. See Gh. XII, below. 

16. Thus J6n Johannesson, Gerdir Land- 
namabokar, 1941, 135-6. Einar Ol. 
Sveinsspn, Eyrbyggja Saga ( fslenzk Fornrit 
IV) Introduction, assigns it to an earlier 

17. See Einar Ol. Sveinsson, edition cited. 
Introduction 2. 

18. Edition cited, 152-3. 

19. Ibid., 165. 

20. Ibid., 187. 

21. Ibid., 193. 

22 . Ibid., 11. 

23. Eiriks Saga Rauda VIII. 

24. Interesting examples are found in Lax- 
dxla Saga XL, and Floamanna Saga, 

25. Am ong many stories illustrating this 
could be quoted that told by Rimbert in 
Vita Anskarii XXVI. 

26. Kristni Saga IX. 

27. Ch. CII. 

28. Hkr., Hdk. Gob. XIV ; Fib. I, 387, cf Fib. 
II, 72. 

29. E.g. Fib. I, 387 ; II, 184. 

30. Oddr Snorrason, Saga Oldfs Tryggvasonar, 
ed. F. Jonsson, 1932, 173 ; cf Fib. I, 397. 

3 1 . Edition cited, 1 63-4 ; cf Hkr. 6 l. Trygg. 

32. Legendary Saga of St. Olaf ( Oldfs Saga 
hins helga, ed. O. A. Johnsen, 1922), 
XXXIV-VI ; cf Hkr. Ol. Heig. CXII. 

33. Op. cit., 220-2 ; cf Fib. I, 488-g. 

34. See Gh. XII, below. 

35. See Hedetiske Kultminder i norske Steds- 
navne I, 1915, esp. 202 ff; the results of 
Olsen’s researches were summarized in 
Nordisk Kultur XXVI ( Religionshistorie , 
ed. N. Lid), 1942, 59 ff. See further 
Olsen’s Farms and Fanes of Ancient Nor- 
way, 1928, passim. 

36. See O. Lundberg in Nor disk Kultur 
XXVI, 50 ff; E. Wesson, Studier til 
Sveriges hedna mythologi och Fornhistoria, 
1924, 1 29 ff and passim ; idem Schwedische 
Ortsnamen und altnordische Mythologie in 
Acta Philologica Scandinavica X, 1929, 
97 S'- 

37. See G. Knudsen, Nordisk Kultur, XXVI, 
33 ff and refs., also A. Olrik and H. Elle- 
kilde, Nordens Gudeverden, I, 1926-51, 
334 ff- 


Thor in Viking Colonies 

t . See G. Marstrander, Bidrag til det norske 
sprogs Historic i Irland, 1915, 66 and 155. 

2. References and textual interpretations 
are given by J. Steenstrup, Normannerne, 
II, 1878, 356-62 ; and further by C. 
Marstrander, Revue Celtique, XXXVI, 
1915, 244 ff. 

3. De moribus et actis primorum Normannhz 
Ducum I, ed. J. Lair, 1865, 126 ff. 

4. Two Saxon Chronicles, ed. G. Plummer, I, 

5. Sermo Lupi ad Anglos, ed. D. Whitelock, 

J 939- 

6. JEf ric's Lives of Saints, ed. W. W. Skeat, 
II, 1900, 264. 

7. Text: F. Kluge, Angelsdchsisches Lesehuch, 
ed. 4, 1915, 86-9; cf Salomon and Saturn, 
ed. J. F. Kemble, II, 1847, 120-5. An 
Icelandic version of this homily is pre- 
served in Hauksbdk (ed. Finnur Jonsson, 
1892-6) 156 ff. 

8. The Homilies of Wulfstan, ed. D. Bethu- 
rum, 1957, 220-4. 

9. See E. A. Philippson, Germanisches Heiden- 
tum bei den Angelsachsen, 1929, 141 ff and 
R. Jente, Die mythologischen Ausdriicke im 
altenglischen Wortschatz, 1921, 83 ff; fur- 
ther H. Lindquist, Middle-English Place- 
names of Scandinavian Origin, I, 1912, 
94 ff 

10. Gf B. Dickins, English names and Old Eng- 
lish Heathenism in Essays and Studies by Mem- 
bers of the English Association XIX, 150. 
See also F. M. Stenton, Transactions of 
the Royal Historical Society, 4th Series, vol 
XXIII, 1941, 1-24. 

11. See St. Rozniecki, Perun und Thor in 
Archiv fur slavische Philologie 23 , 1 90 1 , 473 ; 

G. Vernadsky, Kievan Russia, 1951, 54. 

12. See Rozniecki, op. cit., 493 and refs. 

13. See N. K. Chadwick, The Beginnings of 
Russian History, 1946, 86 ff. 

14. See Rozniecki, op. cit., 514 ff; A. Bruck- 
ner, Archiv fur slavische Philologie, XL, 
1926, 8. 

15. On this passage see Rozniecki, op. cit., 

16. Gutalag och Guta Saga, ed. H. Pipping, 
1905-7, 63. 

17. Eyrbyggja Saga, X. 

18. Dudo of St. Quentin, De moribus et actis 
primorum Normamice ducum, I, ed. J. Lair, 
1865, 129 ff. 

19. See Bruckner, op. cit., 16 ff. 

20. See J. Machal, The Mythology of All 
Races, III, 1918, 317 ff. 

21. See A. Jdhannesson, Islandisches etymo- 
logisches Wtirterbuch, 1956, 551; further 
J. de Vries, Altnordisches etymologisches 
Worterbuch, 1961, 126. 

22. See H. Ljungberg, Tor, I, 1947, 38. 

23. Op. cit., 7g. Mrs Chadwick’s interpreta- 
tion of the story differs from that offered 

24. Simon Grunau, Preussische Chronik, 1876, 
Tract. Ill, Gh. 4, 68 ff. 

25. SnE., Gylf. 6, Skdld. 28. 

26. See F. R. Schroeder in Festgabe fur Karl 
Helm, 1951, 32 ff; J. de Vries, Rel. 2 , II, 
274 ff. 

27. See J. A. Friis, Lappish Mythologi, 1871, 
65 ff; J. Fritzner, Norsk Historisk Tids - 
krift, IV, 1877, 145 ff. 

28. Danske Studier, 1905, 39 ff ; A. Olrik and 

H. Ellekilde, Nordens Gudeverden, I, 143. 

29. See N. Lid, Nordisk Kultur XXVI {Re- 
ligionshistorie) , 1942, 126. 

30. See J6n Arnason, Islenzkar Pjbbsogur og 
JEfintyri I, 1862, 641 ff; Jonas Jbnasson, 
Islenzkir Pjobhattir, 1934, 410. 

31. See H. Ljungberg, op. cit., 4gff. 

32. See Olrik and Ellekilde, op, cit., I, g6 ff; 
Friis, op. cit., 70 ff. 

Thor- Thunor 

1. Transactions of the Royal Historical Society, 
4th Series, XXIII, 1941, 17 ff. See fur- 
ther Bruce Dickins, Essays and Studies, 
XIX, 155 ff; E. A. Philippson, Ger- 
manisches Heidentum bei den Angelsachsen, 
1929, 136 ff"; R. Jente, Die mythologischen 
Ausdriicke im altenglischen Wortschatz, 1921, 
81 ff. 

2. See A. H. Smith, English Place-name 
Elements, 11,1956,146,217; further G. 

Turville-Petre, Tkurstable in English and 
Medieval Studies Presented to J. R. R. Tol- 
kien, 1962, 241 ff. 

3. Salomon and Saturn, II ed. J. M. Kemble, 
1847, 148. 

4. See Stenton, op. cit., 18; further G. 
Plummer, Two Saxon Chronicles, II, 1899, 
21 ff. 

5. See A. Campbell, Old English Grammar, 
1959, 189 ff. 



6. See W. Braune, Althochdeutschcs Lesebuch, 
1921, 166; J. Knight Bostock, A Hand- 
book on Old High German Literature, 1 955, 

98- _ 

7. The list begins with Gesecg Seaxneting 
(H. Sweet, The Oldest English Texts, 
1885, 179). In a later version, Woden is 
added before Seaxnet. 

8. Cf H. M. Chadwick, The Origin of the 
English Nation, x 907, 59 ; F. M. Stenton, 
Anglo-Saxon England, 1943, 53. 

9. For details and bibliography of Saxnot 
see Jente, op. cit., 96-7; Philippson, op. 
cit., x 17 ff ; idem. Die Genealogie der Goiter, 
1953, 34. I am not able to accept all of 
Philippson’s conclusions. 

xo. Reproduced by H. Arntz, Handbuch der 
Runenkunde, 1944, Tafel VIII. 

11. W. Krogmann (Acta Philologica Scandi- 
naoica , XII, 1937-8, 62 ff) and Ljung- 
berg (op. cit., 209 ff) prefer to read 
Wiguponar. To judge by reproductions 
they have some reason. 

12. Cf W. Baetke, Das Heilige im Germani- 
schen, 1942, 111-14 an( ^ especially 119. 

13. See W. Krause, Zeitschrift fur deutsche 
Alter turn, LXIV, 1927, 269 ff. 

14. The explanations of Krause (op. cit.) and 
Krogmann (op. cit.) are too intricate to 
be convincing. 

15. Many of these were cited by J. Grimm, 
Teutonic Mythology, I, 170 ff and 185. 

x6. See above; further Ljungberg, op. cit., 
9 and 71 ff. 

17. See M-L. Sjcestedt, Dieux et Heros des 
Celtes, 1940, 30-1 ; H. d’Axbois de Ju- 
bainville, The Irish Mythological Cycle 
(transl. R. I. Best), 1903, pp. XII, 
213-19; further J. de Vries, Keltische 
Religion, 1961, 63 ff. 

18. See J. Morris Jones, A Welsh Grammar, 
1930, 160. 

19. Cf M. Olsen, Hedenske Kultminder I, 203. 

20. See T. G. E. Powell, The Celts, i960, 128. 

21. Cf H. M. Chadwick, op. cit., 226 ff. 

22. See K. Helm, Altgermanische Religions- 
geschichte I, 1913, 363 ff; J. de Vries, 
Rel. 2 , II, 107 ff, Ljungberg, op. cit., 71 
and refs. 


1. Following the translation of J. S. Stally- 
brass, Teutonic Mythology, III, 1883, 

2. Undersokningar i germansk mytologi, esp. 
II, 1889, 100 ff. Rydberg’s views were 
discussed by H. Ljungberg, Tor, I, 1947, 

58 ff. 

3. Indr a, Thor, Herakles in ^eitscAri/it fur 
deutsche Philologie, LXXVI, 1957, 1 ff. 

4. Among many: Les Dieux des Germains, 
1959, Chs. I and IV ; Les Dieux des Indo- 
Europeens, 1952, Ch. I; LTde'ologie tri- 
par tie des Indo-Europeens, 1958, passim. See 
also J. de Vries, Forschungsgeschichte der 
Mythologie, iq6r, 3^7-60. 

5. See Ch. VII, below. 

6. Die Religionen Indiens I, i960, 53 ff. 

7. E.g. Sigurd, Finn ; on Marduk and Tia- 
mat see E. O. James, The Ancient Gods, 
i960, 208 ff. 

8. See Gonda, op. cit., 60. 

9. SnE. Skald. 44. 

10. Rigveda IV, 17; VI, 70; VII, 53; VIII, 
52; 59» : 5> etc. 

1 1 . Hymiskvida 1 5 ; Pryrnskvida 24. 

12. SnE. Gylf. 31. 

13. Rigveda V, 29, 7-9. 

14. See Gh. II, God of Poetry, 

15. See Gonda, op. cit., 53. 

16. See Gonda, op. cit., 99 and 103 ; A. Hille- 
brandt, Vedische Mythologie (Kleine Aus- 
gabe), 1910, in ff. 

West Norse 

1. SnE. Gylf. 11. 

2. In Iceland the name is given to matri- 
cary, and it is applied to various plants 
in other parts of Scandinavia and nor- 
thern England. See esp. S. Bugge, 
Sludier over de nordiske Gude - og Heltesagns 



Oprindelse, I, 1881-9, 283 ff, and de 
Vries, Rel. 2 , 11,2 31. The name is not 
likely to be of ancient origin. 

3. SnE. Gylf. 18, 

4. Ibid. 33-4. 

5. G. Neckel, Die Vberlieferungen vom Gotte 



Balder, 1920, 35 ff, would interpret feikn- 
stafir in a more concrete sense, ‘evil- 
bringing runes’. 

6. Some would render Hour as ‘sacrifice’, 
believing it to be a loan from Old Eng- 
lish lifer, tiber. See S. Bugge, The Home of 
the Eddie Poems, 1899, XL; further H. 
Gering and B. Sijmons, Kommentar zu den 
Liedern der Edda, I, 1927, 44. 

7. Z ur Bewertung der Snorra Edda als reli- 
gionsgeschichtliche und mythologische Quelle 
des nordgermanischen Heidentums, 1932, 7 ff 

8. SnE. Skdld. 24. 

9. Skj. B, I, 129-30. See Ch. I, Old Norse 
Poetry, above. 

10. Edda, ed. G. Neckel, 1927, 273-5. Trans- 
lated by Thomas Gray as The Descent of 
Odin, 1761. 

11. The name Vdli is not preserved in the 
text of the poem, but is known from other 
sources and demanded by the metrical 

12. M. Olsen, Arkiv for nordisk Filologi, XL, 
1924, 15 1, suggests that the death of 
Baldr and the journey of Hermdd could 
have been related in one poem. The 
strophe about Thokk, given by Snorri 
and cited above, would probably not be 
part of this, since it is in the measure 
Ljodahdttr. S. Bugge (Studier, I, 48) at- 
tempted to reconstruct some of the lost 
lines in Snorri’s source. 

13. 03 inn uses the same device in the Saga of 
King Hei&rek the Wise (ed. Ch? Tolkien, 
i960, 44). The saga is probably in- 
fluenced by the poem. 

14. Skj. B, I, 165. 

15. Neckel, op. cit., 147 ff. 

16. The expression (feerdi hgfud sitt) implies 
that he offered his head to the chieftain 
to chop off if he liked. 

17. In Hrafns Saga, ed. G. Vigfusson, Siur- 
lunga Saga II, 1878, 283. 


1. Saxonis Grammatici Gesta Danorum, ed. A. 
Holder, 1886, Book III. 

2. Cf P. Herrmann, Die Heldensagen des 
Saxo Grammaticus, 1922, 231. 

3. Saxo mentions a variant, according to 
which the King gave his daughter to 

4. G. Dumdzil, Loki, 1959, 101, suggests 
that Gevar, directing Ho 3 to the magic 
sword, takes the place of Loki. 

5. See F. Klasber, Beowulf and the Fight at 
Finnsburg, 1950, pp. XLII ff 

6. See Herrmann, op. cit., and references 
there given, 

7. See G. Knudsen in Festskrift til Finnur 
Jonsson, 1928, 463 ff 

8.. Poetical expressions such as folkbaldr, 
lidbaldr, herbaldr, mannbaldr, as D. Hof- 
mann points out (Nordisch-englische Lehrt- 
beziehungen der Wikingerzeit, 1955, 76), 
may not Be associated immediately 
with the god Baldr. They may derive 
from Old English poetic expressions 

such as beorna bealdor. Cf E. A. Kock, 
Notationes Norrarue V, 1925, § 787; H. 
Kuhn in Festgabe fur K. Helm, 1951, 41. 

9. Such as brynju Hgdr (Ho 3 of the corselet). 
See R. Meissner, Die Kenningar der Skal- 
den, 1921, 261. 

10. In the Vgluspa (str. 20) the plural Ngnnur 
Herjans (Odinn’s Nannas) means Val- 

1 1. A. Johannessori, Isldndisches Etymologisches 
Worterbuch, 1956, 685 suggests another 

12. See further J. de Vries, Arkiv for nordisk 
Filologi, LXX, 1 955, 41 ff. I am unable to 
follow de Vries in regarding the slaying 
of Baldr as a form of initiation. 

1 3 . This question is discussed most thoroughly 
by G. Dum6zil, op. cit., 94 ff. 

14. Cf Neckel, op. cit., 40- r. 

1 5. See J. Frazer, The Golden Bough (abridged 
1922), 658 ff. 

16. See Hj. Falk, Altnordische Waffenkunde, 
1914, 56. 

The Character of Baldr and His Cult 

1 . See Fridbjdfs Saga ins Fmkna, ed. L. ' 4. See G. Knudsen in Nordisk Kultur XXVI 

Larsson, 1901, 2, note. (Religionshistorie ) , 1942,35. 

2. Arkiv for nordisk Filologi, XL, 1924, 151 ff 5. See Olsen, op. cit., 151 ff. 

3. See Olsen, op. cit-., 169. 6. Op. cit., 102 ff 

3 00 

3 01 


7. Es gibt kein Balder ‘ Herr ’ in Erbe der Ver- 
gangenheit ( Festgabe fiir K. Helm), 195 L 
37 ff- 

8. Views on the origin of the name Baldr 
are conveniently summarized by J. de 
Vries, Altnordisches Elymologisches Warter- 
buch, 1958-61, s.v. Baldr, 

9. Op. cit., Ch. V. 

10. On the seasonal festivals see E. O, 
James, The Ancient Gods, i960, 134 ff. 

11. Germanisch-Romanische Monatschrift, 

XXIV, 1953, 174 ff. 

12. Kalevala, Runo XI-XV. 

13. See J. de Vries, Arkivjbr nordisk Filologi, 
LXX, 41 ff. 

14. Gautrehs Saga, VII. 

15. Styrbjarnar Pattr in Fib., II, 70 ff. 

16. Vplsunga Saga, ed. M. Olsen, 1906-8, XI. 

17. Saxo, Book VIII; cf Sggubrot af Forn- 
kormngum (ed. G. af Petersens and E. 
Olson in Sggur Danakonunga, 1919-25), 

18. Studier I, 32 ff. 

19. See Bugge, op. cit., 45 ff 

20. Ed. G. de Tischendorf, Evangelia Apo- 
crypha, ed. 2, 1876, 484. 

21. Ed B. Dickins and A. S. C. Ross, 1934, 

22. Op. cit., loc. cit. 

23. The ‘pathetic fallacy’ is rare in O.N., 
although not so rare as commonly sup- 
posed. The poet Sighvat told how the 
cliffs of Norway had seemed to smile 
while St. Olaf was alive, but now they 
did so no more ( Skj, . B, I, 252). Ari the 
Wise wrote how Iceland ‘drooped’ 
(drupdi) after the death of Bishop Gizur 
(Biskupa Sogur I, 1858, 145), and the 
settler Hallsteinn Thengilsson described, 
in a verse, how the neighbourhood 
‘drooped’ on the death of his father 
( Landndmabdk , 1900, 80). 

.. See James, op. cit., loc. cit.', Neckel, op. 
cit. 147 ff. 

Op. cit., 173 ff. 

Continental and English Tradition 

1. See Gfsli Brynjulfsson, Antikvarisk Tids- 
krift, 1852-4, 132. 

2. See Neckel, op. cit., 141 ff. 

3. See B. Nerman, Det svenska Rikets Upp- 
kornt, 1925, 90 ff. 

4. Op. cit., Introduction, XLI. 

5. Gf Olsen, op. cit., 153. 

6. Landnamabok (1900), 101, names a 
Vilbaldr, evidently of Irish origin. 

7. See K. Sisam, Proceedings of the British 
Academy, XXXIX, 1957, 301 ff. 

8. The Chronicle of Mthelweard, ed. A. Camp- 
bell, 1962, 33 and XXIV, note. 

9. See de Vries, RelP, II, 233 ff; further 
R. Jente, Die mythologischen Ausdriicke im 
altenglischen Wortschatz, 1921, 95 and 

10. See Jente, op. cit., loc. cit. ; E. A. Philipp- 
son, Germanisches Heidentum bei den Angel- 
sachsen, 1929, 169. 

11. See N.E.D., sw. 

12.. Die germanischen Gotternamen der antiken 
Inschriften, 1936, 58 and 63 ff. 

13. Germanisch-Romanische Monatschrift, 
XXXIV, 1953, 166. 

14. A Handbook on Old High German Literature, 
* 955 > *6 ff- 

15. See G. Storms, Anglo-Saxon Magic, 1948, 
107 ff; Bugge, Studier, I, 287; F. Genz- 
mer, Arkiv for nordisk Filologi, LXIII, 
1948, 65 ff. 

16. Lebor Gabala Erenn, ed. R. A. S. Maca- 
lister, IV, 1941, 1 14-15 and 148-9; cf 
Schroder, op. cit., 179 and refs. 

17. Op. cit., 174 ff; further R. Th. Christian- 
sen, Die finnischen und nordischen Varianten 
des zweiten Merseburger Spruches, 1915. 

18. Kalevala, Runo XV, 307 ff; translated 
by W. F. Kirby, Everyman’s Library, 

1923. 157- 

19. See Storms, op. cit., 1 10-1 3 ; Schroder, 
op. cit., 179 and refs. 

20. See Bostock, op. cit., 23 ff. 

21. SnE. Gylf. 22 and 34. 

22. See Alexander J6hannesson, Islandisches 
Etymologisches Worterbuch, 1956, 560. 

23. See Ch. VIII, Frigg. 

24. Seep. 117 above. 

25. JSjdls Saga , LXXV. 

26. SnE. Skald. 74. 

27. Ibid. 

28. The question is thoroughly discussed by 
Genzmer, op. cit., 60 ff. 




1. See Chs. I, Old Norse Poetry and III, 
Thor’s Hammer and Goats, above. 

2. Reconstructed texts in Skj. B, I, i4ff and 
Den norsk-islandska skaldedigtningen, ed. 
E. A. Kock, I, 1946, 9 ff; translation by 
L. M. Hollander, The Skalds, 1945,42 ff. 
The most detailed discussion of this part of 
theHaustlgng is that of A. Holtsmark, Arkiv 
f&r nordisk Filologi, LXIV, 1949, 1-73. 

3. F. Strom, Loki, 1956, 63 ff prefers to in- 
terpret the phrase as ‘wife of Loki’. 

4. Reconstructed texts in Skj. B, I, 139 ff, 
and by E. A. Kock, op. cit., I, 76 ff. The 
most thorough discussion is that of 
V. Kiil, Arkiv for nordisk Filologi, LXXI, 
1956, 89-167. 

5. SnE. Sk. Skdld 27. 

6. Kiil, op. cit., 96-7, reads gammleidi and in- 
terprets as ‘leader of the gammr’ (a mythi- 
cal bird), suggesting an allusion to the 
story of Loki as a falcon, pursued by the 
giant eagle. 

7. Kiil , op. cit., 100, applies the allusion to 

8. Various interpretations are quoted by 
J. de Vries, The Problem of Loki, 1933, 
126 ff. See also Strom, op. cit., 131 ff. 

9. On the hafnyra see B. Pering, Heimdall, 
1941,217 ff. Pering suggests that the ‘sea- 
kidney’ was the fruit of a West Indian 
plant, a kind of bean ( entada scandens), 
which sometimes drifts to northern 
countries with the Gulf Stream, and is 
prized as an amulet, relieving women in 

10. De Vries, op. cit., 127 ff, interprets Singa- 
steinn in an entirely different way. 

11. Text in Edda, ed. G. Neckel, 1927, 

12. SnE. Gylf. 5. 

13. E.g. Gisla Saga Surssonar II. 

14. Bjamar Saga Hitdcslakappa XVII. 

15. Grdgas, Stadarholsbdk, 1879, 392. 

16. Aldre Vastgdtalagen, ed. E. Wesson, 1954, 


17. E.g. Sneglu-Halla fdttr, ed. J6nas Krist- 
jdnsson (fslenzk Fornrit IX, 1956) 265 and 


18. Tacitus, Germania XLIII. 

19. The form Levateinn is emended from 
Hcevateinn, but the emendation is de- 
manded by alliteration. 

20. SnE. Gylf. 19. 

21. SnE. Skdld. 2-3. 

22. Ibid., 27. 

23. SnE. Gylf 25. 

24. A summary of such stories was given by K. 
Krohn, Ubersicht iiber einige Resultate der 
Marchenforschung, 1931, 1 14-122. For a 
fuller treatment see J. Sahlgren in Saga 
och Sed, 1940,1-50 and 1941,115-51. 

25. SnE. Skdld. 44. 

26. SnE. Gylf. 25. 

27. SnE. Skdld. 47. 

28. See especially de Vries, op. cit., 155-61. 

29. On this strophe see S. Nordal, Voluspa, 
i923> 75-7. 

30. See de Vries, op. cit., 180 ff; K. Krohn, 
Skandinavisk Mytologi, 1922, 153. 

31. Fib. I, 275-83. 

32. Important discussions are those of H. 
Celander, Lokes mytiska Ur sprung, 1911; 
de Vries, op. cit., 225-50; A. Olrik, 
Danske Studier, 1908, 193-207 and 1909, 
69-84; idem, Myterne om Loke in Fest- 
skrift til H. F. Feilberg, 1911, 548-93; 
A. B. Rooth, Loki in Scandinavian Mytho- 
logy, 1961. 

33. Tngl. S. IV. 

34. SnE. Skald. 23. 

35. See Strom, op. cit., 56; Holtsmark, op. 
cit., 52 ff; further W. Krogmann, Acta 
Philologica Scandinavica , VI, 1931— 2, 31 1 
and 32 1 ff. 

36. Sggur Danakonunga, ed. C. af Petersens 
and E. Olson, 1925, 11. 

37. SnE. Gylf. 4. 

38. See Strom, op. cit., 57; Holtsmark, op. 
cit., 48 ff; Krogmann, op. cit., loc. cit. 

3g. See H. Gering and B. Sijmons, Kommen- 
tarzu den Liedern der Edda, I, 1927, 21-2. 

40. Cf Stenumdar Edda, ed. F. Better and 
R. Heinzel, II, 1903, 27. 

41. Various interpretations of this inscrip- 
tion are cited by Krogmann, op. cit., 
62 ff See also F. von der Leyen, Die 
Gotter der Germanen, 1938, 137 ff. 

42. Teutonic Mythology (transl. J. S. Stally- 
brass), 1,1900,241 ff; Olrik in Festskrift 
til H. F. Feilberg, 587 ff discusses the ety- 
mology of Loki (Lokki ) . 

43. See J. Sahlgren, Namn och Bygd, VI, 
I9 j 8, 33 ff - 

44. Hauk Valdfs arson, Islendinga Drdpa, 
str. 1 (Skj. B, 1,539). 

45. Skj. B, I, 61 and 539. 

46. Cf Kiil, op. cit., 95-6. 

47. See O. Schoning, Dedsriger i nordisk 




hedentro, 1 903, 27 ff ; further H. Schneider, 
Archiv fur Religionswissensckaft, XXXV, 
1938, 25 ff. 

48. See de Vries, op. cit., esp. Ch. XII. 

49. See Holtsmark, op. cit., 54 ff. 

50. Ragnarok, revised edition, translated into 
German by W. Ranisch, 1922, Gh. V 
and passim. 

51. See Olrik, Myterne , 560 ff and Ragnarok 
passim; further G. Vernadsky, Sceculum 

II, I 95 1 , 364 ff - 

52. See G. Dumfoil, Loki, ed. 2, 1 959, 2 1 0 ff. 

53. Fled Bricrend, ed. G. Henderson, 1899, 


1. Skj. B, I, 523. 

2. Finnur Jbnsson, ONOI, II, 76 ; B. Penng, 
Heimdall, 1941, i3" I 4- 

3. Landndmabdk, ed. Finnur Jonsson, 1900, 
84. Finnur Jdnsson and others following 
him reject the reading Heimdala and 
emend Heimdalar. 

4. Lokasenna 48. 

5. Older interpretations of the phrase 
Heimdallar hljod are quoted by B. Sijmo'ns 
and H. Gering, Kommentar zu den Liedern 
der Edda, 1, 1927, 36; see further Pering, 
op. cit., 241 ff. Other views were ex- 
pressed by A. Ohlmarks ( Heimdallr und 
das Horn, 1937, 3*5 ff > 311(1 especially 
272 ff), who believed that the horn was 
the moon. 

6 . SnE. Gylf. 8. 

7. Cf S. Nordal, Voluspd, 1923, 67-8. 

8. See Sijmons and Gering, op. cit., 1 , 3; 
Nordal, op. cit., 35. 

9. See Finnur Jonsson, ONOI, I, 194-51 
Jean Young, Arkiv for nordisk Filologi 
XLIX, 1933, 106. 

10. See A. Heusler, Archiv fur das Studium der 
neueren Sprachen, CXVI, 1906, 270 ff; G. 
Neckel, Beitrage zur Eddaforschung, 1908, 
104 ff; further K. von See, Acta Philo - 
logica Scandinavica, XXIV, 1957, 1 ff- 

11. See Pering, op. cit., 41-2. 

12. See Jakob Benediktsson, Bibliotheca Arna- 
magnaana, XII, 1957, 229 ff. 

13. It is difficult to accept von See’s sug- 
gestion (op. cit., 6—7) that the Gaelic 
word or noun, Rigr, was introduced into 
Iceland from the British Isles c. 1200. 
The Latin work of the Welshman, 
Geoffrey of Monmouth, was known to 
Icelanders at that time, but there is little 

54. Tain Bo Cualgne, ed. E. Windisch, 1905, 

55. Helga Kvida Hundingsbana II, 34. 

56. Hdrbardsljod, 24. 

57. Loki, ed. 1, 1948; ed. 2, 1959. 

58. A lucid survey was given byG. Dum£zil, 
Legendes sur les Nartes, 1 930. 

59. Ed. I, 247. 

60. Ed. 2, 201. 

61. Les Dieux des Germains, 1959, 98, 103-4. 

62. Op. cit., 98. 

63. SnE. Gylf. 25. 


evidence of literary contact with the 
Gaelic world then. 

14. See G. Vigfusson, Star lung a Saga I, 1878, 
GLXXXVI ; Corpus Poeticum Boreale 
I, 1883, LXX; further Young, op. cit., 
esp. 98 and 105-6 and refs, there given. 

15. See J. de Vries, Etudes Germaniques, 1955, 
264: further R. Much, Deutsche Island- 
forschung I, 1930, 63 ff. 

16. Skj. B, I, 68. 

17. Skj. B, I, 670. 

18. Gf I. Lindquist, Vetenskaps-Societeten i 
Lund, Arsbok, 1937, 89, 97-8. 

19. See Bruce Dickins, Place-names of Surrey, 
1 934, 403-6 ; J. Grimm, Teutonic Mytho- 
logy (transl. J. Stallybrass), I, 1900, 52. 

20. SnE. Gylf. 15. 

21. Cf Lindquist, op. cit., 68. 

22. See Ohlmarks, op. cit., 272 ff. and 

23. Etudes Celtiques, VIII, 1959, 280. 

24. Cf Ohlmarks, op. cit., 276. 

25. Skj. B, 1, 657 ; SnE. Skald. 34, LXXVII. 

26. See esp. Young, op. cit., 103 ff. 

27. Death Tales of the Ulster Heroes , ed. K. 
Meyer, 1906, 5 ff; further R. Thurney- 
sen, die irische Helden- und Konigsage, 
192 L 534 ff- 

28. The Feast of Bricriu, ed. G. Henderson, 
1899, 24-5. 

29. Ed. W. Stokes, Revue Celtique, VIII, 
47 ff; translation in The Cuchullin Saga, 
ed. E. Hull, 1898 ff; further R. Thur- 
neysen, op. cit., 505 ff. 

30. Scela Mucce Meic Datho, ed. R. Thurney- 
sen, 1951, 17; cf N. K. Chadwick, An 
Early Irish Reader , 48-9, note. 

31. Vries, Betrachtimgen zum 'Marchen, 
1954, 98 ff- 

32. See Pering, op. cit., 247 ff. 

33. Pering, op. cit., 64 and 274 ff, discusses 
this form and gives useful references. 

34. SnE. Gylf. 22. 

35. See J. de Vries, Etudes Germaniques, 1955, 
265 and refs. ; and esp. M. Olsen, Maal 
og Minne, 1 909, 25 ; also O. von Friesen, 
Festskrift til Finnur Jonsson, 1928, 260 ff 

36. Lexicon Islandico-Latino-Danicum, I, 1814, 


37. See esp. H. Pipping, Eddastudier I— II 
(Studier i nordisk Filologi 16-17), I 9 2 5 _ 6. 

38. Prymskvida 14. 

39. Grimnismal XIII; SnE. Gylf. 15. 

40. SnE. Gylf. 38. 

41. See F. Paasche, Hedenskap og Kristendom, 

1948, 62 ff ; Edda I, 1914, 33~74i Ohl- 
marks, op. cit. 

42. See K. Liestol, Draumkvtsde, 1946. 

43. See SnE. Gylf. 34; cf Husdrapa (Skj. B, I, 

129) Str. 10. 

44. Cf Liestol, op. cit., 70-1. 

45. St. Michael was thejylgjuengill of Hall af 
Si5u (Njdls Saga C) . 

46. Etudes Germaniques, 1955, 266 ff 

47. Les Dieux des Indo-Europiens, 1 952, 104-5; 
cf Etudes Celtiques, cited above. 

48. See p. 150 above. 

49. SnE. Skdld 16. 

50. In many works, and especially in Loki 
(ed. 2, 1959), 53 ff). 


1. See A. Jbhannesson, Islandisches Etymo - logisches Wdrterbuch, 1961, sw. dss and 

logisches Worterbuch, 1956, pp. 25, 114, vanr. 

132; J. de Vries, Altnordisches Etymo- 

War of JEsir and Vanir 

1. See Bjarni Adalbjarnarson, Heimskringla 
I, 1941, pp. XXII ff; further A. Heusler, 
Die gelehrte Urgeschichte im altislandischen 
Schriftum, 1908, pp. 43 ff 

2. See ASalbjarnarson, op. cit., I, p. ro, 
note 3. 

3. See Ch. V. 

4. See Ch. II, God of Poetry. 

5. Vafprudnismdl 39 ; Lokasenna 34. 

6. See E. Mogk, jVooellistische Darstellung 
mythologischer Stoffe Snorris und seiner 
Schule, 1923, 1 ff; idem, Giganto- 
machie der Vqluspd, 1924, 1-10. 

7. Folkvig is usually translated ‘battle’ (cf 
folkorrusta ) . The word is rare. 

8. The phrase geirurn studdu means more 
precisely ‘they supported her, held her 
up with spears’, i.e. they pierced her 
from all sides so that she could not fall. 
The expression is several times re- 
corded. Gf S. Nordal, Voluspd, 1923, 
P- 58. 

9. Heidr probably ‘Bright’ see below. 

10. In lines 5-6 of this strophe I have 
adopted the reading of Hauksbdk. See 
Nordal, op. cit., 58-9 and especially D. 
Stromback, Sejd, 1935, 17-21. 

11. The interpretation of lines 4-8 of this 
strophe is difficult and has been widely 

discussed. See particularly G. Dum^zil, 
Tarpeia, 1947, 259-60. 

1 2. Vigspd, the reading of both manuscripts, 
is adopted and construed as instrumen- 
tal dative. Many editors emend to 
vigskd (warlike). 

13. Kndttu . . . vpllu spoma more literally 
‘trod (could tread) the fields’, cf the 
common Old English expression: ahton 
unelstowe gewald ; hrefde wigsigor . . . weald 
uitelstowe (Genesis 2003-5). 

14. Mogk, in works cited above, and more 
recently E. A. Philippson, Die Genealogie 
der Gutter, 1953,81, interpret it as a battle 
between gods and giants. 

15. See Gh. II, God of War, above. 

16. See J. de Vries, Altnordisches Etymolo- 
gisches Wdrterbuch, 1961, 651. 

17. Lexicon Islandico-Latino-Danicum II, 1814, 

18. See Hj. Falk, Altwestnordische Kleider- 
kunde, 1919, 28-9. 

19. Gf Dumezil, op cit., 256, 267, 270 ff 

20. E.g. Heidr vglva (Landndmabdk, ed. Finnur 
Jonsson, 1900, p. 59); cf Hrdlfs Saga 
Kraka (ed. D. Slay, i960) Ch. 3. 

2 1 . SnE. Gylf. 22 ; cf R. Meissner, De Ken- 
ningar der Skalden, ig2I, 227. 

22. SnE. loc. sit.; cf Ptymskvidastr. 13. 





23. Lokasenna str. 32. 

24. Tnglinga Saga IV and VII. 

25. See especially B. Salin in Studier tilldgn. 

O. Montelius, 1903, 133-41 ; H. Schuck, 
Studier i nordisk Litteratur- och Religions- 
historia 1, 1904, 60 ff ; N. Odeen in Studier 
till. A. Kock, 1928, 294 ff; E. Mogk in 
works cited in Note 6 above; Philippson, 
op. cit., 19 and 81. Cf Ch. II, Woden- 
Wotan, above. 

26. See W, Stokes, Revue Celtique XII, 1891, 
52 ff; J. Frazer, fbriu VIII, 1916, iff; 
H. d’Arbois de Jubainville, Corns de 
Literature Celtique V, 1892, 393 ff. 

27. See T. F. O’Rahilly, Early Irish History 

and Mythology , 1946, 14 1 and 388 ff. 

28. See d’Arbois, The Irish Mythological 
Cycle (transl. R. I. Best), 1903, 96. 

29. Cf O’Rahilly, op. cit., 313. 

30. See Ch. VIII, Tyr. 

31. See d’Arbois, Cours V, 438. 

32. See Havamal 148; Tnglinga Saga VII. 

33. See J. deVries, Keltische Religion, 1961, 
P- 54- 

34. See Ch. II, Lord of the Gallows. 

35. Cf de Vries, op. cit., 153. 

36. Skirum Frey ( Grimnismdl 43). 

37. T irpeia, 1947, 249 ff; Les Dieux des Indo- 
Europeens, 1952, 25 ff; loki (ed. 2), 1959, 
69 ff; Mitra-Varuna, 1948, 163 ff. 


1. Tnglinga Saga IV. 

2. According to SnE. Gylf. 13, Freyr and 
Freyja were apparently bom to Njor5 by 
a nameless woman after SkaSi had left 
him. In the Skirnismdl (1-2) Freyr is 
called mqgr and sonr of Njord and SkaSi. 
This may reflect a later tradition, or 
perhaps the words are used loosely. 
Randv^r, in the HamSismal (17) is called 
sonr of Svanhild, but was really stepson. 

3. See Ch. Ill, The Worship of Th6r. 

4. Hak. G 68 a 14 ; cf Ch. XIII. 

5. EgilsSaga 56. 

6. Vafprudnismdl 38. 

7. Grimnismdl 16. 

8. See especially Nordisk Kultur XXVI, 
Religionshistorie (ed. N. Lid), 1942, PP- 
60 ff. 

9. See A. Olrik and H. Ellekilde, Nordens 
Gudeverden, 1926-51, I, 410 and 533 and 
references, pp. 572 and 585 ff. 

10. An interesting map, illustrating the 
place-names compounded with Njqrd- 
(. Njard -) was given by J. de Vries, Altger- 
manische Religionsgeschichte, ed. 2, II, i957> 

11. See A. Bugge, Vesterlandenes Indflydelse paa 
Nordboernes . . . i Vikingetiden, 1905, 144 ff. 

12. VafPruSnismdl 39; cf Lokasenna 34. 

13. Grimnismdl 16. 

14. SnE. Gylf. 1 1. 

15. Vatnsdcda Saga XLVII. 

16. See A. Heusler, Die gelehrte Urgeschichte, 
1908, 37 ff 

17. Histofia . Noryegue in Monumenta Historica 
Norvegie, ed. G. Storm, 1880, 97. 

18. See SnE. Prol. 4-5 footnote to 1. 21; cf 
Arngrfmur Jonsson, Supplementum His- 

toric Norvegicce, ed. Jakob Benediktsson, 
Bibliotheca Arnamagnteana IX, 1950, 148. 

1 9. Tnglinga Saga V. 

20. Ibid., IX. 

21. See Ch. X, Hadding. 

22. See Ch. V. 

23. SnE. Skdld. 3. 

24. ‘World of din’; a variant is Prudheimr 
(World of Strength) . 

25. SnE. Gylf. 12. 

26. See Ch. II, Father of Gods and Men. 

27. £>orSr Sjdreksson: nama snotr una . . . 
godbrudr Vani (the wise bride of gods did 
not love the Vanr). See SnE. Skdld. 14. 

28. Qndurdis (Bragi, Ragnarsdrapa 20), qn- 
durgod (ThjSSolf, Haustlqng 7; cf Eyvind, 
Hdleygjatal 3). 

29. SnE. Gylf. 12. 

30. Lokasenna 52. 

31. Ibid., 51. 

32. Ibid., 50. 

33. Ibid., 65, prose; cf SnE. Gylf. 36. 

34. SnE. Skald. 22. 

35. See J. de Vries, Altnordisches Etymolo- 
gisches Worterbuch, 1961 s.v. SkaSi and 

36. See H. Schuck, Studier i nordisk Litteratur - 
och Religionskistoria II, 1904, pp. 224 ff. 
On SkaSi see further F. R. Schroder, 
SkaSi und die Gotter Skandinaviens, 1941. 

37. Skir brtidr goda (Grimnismdl n). 

38. Lokasenna 51, 

39. See Olrik and Ellerkilde, op. cit. I, 535 
and references. 

40. A particularly instructive, if speculative 
study of Ska3i is that of F. R. Schroder, 
SkaSi und die Gotter Skandinaviens, 1941. 

Freyr -Fro di-Nerthus-Ing 

1. See Einar Cl. Sveinsson, Dating the Ice- 
landic Sagas, 1958, 85 ff; cf Viga-Glums 
Saga, ed. G. Turville-Petre, i960, 

2. See Ch. II, The Cult of CSinn. 

3. See Turville-Petre, op. cit., 61-2 and 

4.. Ketils Saga Hceings, Ch. II (v.l. Vitaskrapi). 

5. See A. Holtsmark, Maal og Mirme 1933, 

6. See A. Olrik and H. Ellekilde, Nordens 
Gudeverden, 1926-51, I, 517. 

7. See Ch. Ill, The Worship of Th6r. 

8. Landnamabdk, ed. Finnur Jdnsson 1900, 
72 ff and 193 ff. 

9. See Ch. Ill, The Worship of Th6r, and 
Ch. XII. 

10. See p. 169 ff, below. 

11. Landndmabdk, edition cited, 73. 

12. Ibid., 72. 

13. Ibid., 71. 

14. Ibid., 125; cf Einar Ol. Sveinsson, Land- 
ndm i Skaftafells Pingi, 1948, 139 ff 

15. Gisla Saga (longer version), ed. K. Gis- 
Iason, 1849, ioi. 

16. See S. Nordal, Hrafnkatla, 1940. 

17. Cf Cl. Briem, Heidinn SiSur d Islandi, 
i945» 38. 

18. E.g. Laxdrela Saga, Chs. 37-8; Eyrbyggja 
Saga 20. 

19. Fib. I, 401. 

20. Cf A. Liestol, Maal og Mirme XXXVII, 
1945, 59-66; K. Liestol, Arv II, 1946, 
94 ff. 

21. SnE. Skdld. 44. 

22. Husdrdpa 7 in Skj. B, I, i2g. 

23. HeiSreks Saga, ed. Jon Helgason, 1924, 
54 and 129; cf H. Ros6n, Freykult och 
Djurkult in Fornvannen, 8, 1913,2131?; 
G. Turville-Petre in Proceedings of the 
Leeds Philosophical and Literary Society, 
ni, 1935*330. 

24. Brandkrossa Pdttr, Ch. I. 

25. See Cl. Briem, op. cit., 38 and 47; Cl. 
L&russon, Nordisk Kultur XXVI, Reli- 
gionshistorie, 1942, 79. 

26. See M. Olsen, Nordisk Kultur XXVI, 
60 ff. 

27. Cf M. Olsen, The Farms and Fanes of 
Ancient Norway, 1928, 263 ff. See also 
Ch. XII below. 

28. A map showing the distribution of place- 
names compounded with Freyr was 
given by J. de Vries, Altgermanische Re- 

ligionsgeschichte ed. 2, II, 1957, 195; see 
further E. Wesson, Studier i nordisk Filo- 
logi XIV, 1923 and idem, Acta Philologica 
Scandinavica IV, 1 929, 97 ff, 

29. Fib. Ill, 246. 

30. Hallfredar Saga Ch. V. 

31. Adam of Bremen IV, 26; cf Ch. XII, 

32. See Ch. XII, below. 

33. See Ch. IX, below. 

34. Tnglinga Saga X. 

35. Fib. 1,404. 

36. Vellekla 18 (Skj. B, I, 120). 

37. Tnglinga Saga X. 

38. Gesta Danorum (ed. A. Holder, 1886) V, 

39. Opera Latine Conscripta, ed. J. Benedikts- 
son, 1, 1950, 339. 

40. SnE. Gylf. 23. See further G. Neckel, Die 
Vberlieferungen vomGotte Balder, 1920, 118, 

41. See Ch. XII, below. 

42. Skirnismdl 2. 

43. Cf Swedish frodas, etc. See E. Hellquist, 
Svensk Etymologisk Ordbok, 1957, s.v. 

44. See Ch. IX. 

45. It may be added that the name Ingui 
appears in a legendary genealogy of 
Bemicia. See M. Redin, Studies in un- 
compounded Personal Names in Old English, 
1919, 127. 

46. Saga 6 lafs Konungs kins Helga, ed. O. A. 
Johnsen and J. Helgason, I, 1941, 3-4, 

47. See Turville-Petre, op. cit., 325 ff. 

48. Cf F. Klaher, Beowulf ed. 3, 1936, 

49. Runic and Heroic Poems ed. Bruce Dickins, 
1915, 20. 

50. Opinions about the origin of this name 
were summarized by J. de Vries, Alt- 
nordisches Etymologisches WGrlerbuch, 1961, 
s.v. Tngvi. 

51. Cf A. Bugge, Saga-Book of the Viking 
Society IX, 1920-5, 368. 

52. Porsdrdpa 7 (Skj. B, 1, 141) ;.E. A. Kock, 
Notationes Norrcems, 1923-1944 (§449) 
avoids tmesis and construes njarSrdd 
(mighty counsel, plan). 

53. Fib. I, 332 ff. CfCh.XII. 

54. See M. Olsen, Farms and Fanes of Ancient 
Norway, 1928, 287 ff; Einar Cl. Sveins- 
son, op. cit., 139 ff; Cl. Briem op. cit., 
47 ff; also Kristni Saga II, and Porval'ds 
Pdttr Vidfqrla IV. 


55. See p. 1 16 above. 

56. See esp. E. Wessen, Studier till Sveriges 
hedna mytologi och fornhistoria, 1924, 79 ff; 
further M. Olsen, Hedenske Kultminder i 
norske stedsnavne I, 1915, 68 ff. 

57. See E. Wessen, Acta Philologica Scandina- 
vica IV, 1929, 109. 

58. See H. Shetelig and Hj. Falk, Scandi- 
navian Archaeology, 1937, 187. 

59. Ibid., 156 ff. 

60. See Bjorn Hougen, Viking, 1 940, 85 ff. 

61. Lokasenna 37. 

62. See F. Genzmer, Arkiv for nordisk Filologi, 
63, 1948, 64 ff. 

63. Gnmnismdl 43—4. 

64. SnE. Gylf. 26 ; cf SnE. Skald. 44. 

65. See J. de Vries, Altgermanische Religions- 
geschichte 1, 1956, 108 ff; further O. Alm- 
gren, Hallristningar och Kultbruk , 1926. 

66. See Kristjin EIdjdrn, Kuml og Haugfe, 
1956, 212 ff 

67. E.g. Gisla Saga Ch. 17. It may be noted 
that the grave there described was that 
of Thorgrim Freyr’s Priest. 

68. Fib. I, 339. 

69. Saxo (ed. Holder) III, 74-5. 

70. Ibid., I, 30; cf Ch. X, Hadding, below. 

71. Adam of Bremen, IV, 26; cf Ch. XII, 

72. See Opuscula archaologica Oscari Montelio 
. . . dicata, 1913, 406. 

73. Book VI, 185. 

74. Hyndluljod 30; Lokasenna 42; SnE. Gylf. 
23 ; Ynglinga Saga 1 0. 

75. See Gh. II, Ofimn’s Eye. 

76. In Maal og Mirme, 1909, 17-36. A very 
different opinion was expressed by J. 
Sahlgren, Eddica et Scaldica, 1927-8, 
2 1 1-3 10. 

77. Thus Finnur Jonsson, Godafrrzdi Nor 5 - 
manna og tslendinga, 1913. For other 
etymologies see J. de Vries, Altnordisches 
Etymologiisches Worterbuch, s.v. Beyla. 

78. See Olsen, op. cit„ 29; Sahlgren ( op.cit ., 
256 ff) derives from barr (pine-needle). 

79. Cf B. Philip otts, The Elder Edda and 
Ancient Scandinavian Drama, 1920, 13 ff 

80. See de Vries, op. cit., s.v. kalekr. 

81. See Sahlgren, op. cit., 261 ff. 

82. See S. Bugge, Arkiv for Nordisk Filologi 
V, 1889, 1 ff. 

83. See Bugge, op. cit., 20 ff 

84. See Sahlgren, op. cit., 284. 

85. Lokasenna 35; see Sahlgren, op. cit., 225. 

86. Str. 7; see Sahlgren, op. cit., 224 ff. 

87. Porgrimspula 3 {Skj. B, I, 656). 

88. Thorbjorn Hornklofi in Heimskrvngla, 
Harolds Saga Harf. XV; cf Sahlgren, 
op. cit., 304-5. 


1. SnE. Gylf. 13; Gragas II, ed. V. Finsen, 
1852, 184. 

2. See F. Holthausen, Worterbuch des Alt- 
westnordischen, 1948, 296; further H. 
Kuhn, Anzeiger fur deutsches Altertum, 56, 
1937, 156. The gen. form Syrar (instead 
of Syr) is surprising, but appears also in 
other instances where the word is used as 
a nickname. See E. H. Lind, Norsk - 
isldndska Personbinamn, 1 920-1, s.v. syr. 

3. See J. de Vries, Altnordische Literatur- 
geschkhte II, 1942, 126 and refs. 

4. Cf B. Sijmons and H. Gering, Kommentar 
zu den Liedern der Edda I, 1927, 397. 

5. Hyndluljdd 46-7. 

6. Ari, Islendingabdk VII. 

7. SnE. Gylf. 1 3 and 34 ; cf Skdld. 29. 

8. See F. R. Schroder, Germamsch-Roma- 
nische Monatschrift 17, 1929,4141!; G. 
Neckel, Die Uberlieferungen vom Gotte 
Balder, 1920, 51 ff. 

9. SnE. Gylf. 22 ; Ynglinga Saga X. 

10. E. A. Philippson, Die Genealogie der Gotter, 

1953, 27 ff attempts to distinguish 05 
from Odinn. 

11. See Ch. VIII, Ull. 

12. SnE. Gylf. 22. 

13. See Gh. V. 

14. Sgrla Pdttr in Fib. I, 275 ff. 

15. tslenzk Fornrit VIII, ed. Einar Ol. Sveins- 
son, 1939, Hallfredar Saga, Ch. 6. 

16. See Gh. Ill, Thor and the Giants. 

17. This was strongly emphasized by J. 
Sahlgren {Eddica et scaldica, 1927-8, 
225—39), who interpreted the naiile 
Gerdr as ‘protectress, defender’. He com- 
pared words for ‘prince’, such as jadarr 
(O.E .eodor) in which the meaning seems 
to develop from ‘edge, protective boun- 
dary, fence’. He saw Gerdr as the second 
element in a compound and compared 
names for women such as Asgerdr, Frey- 

18. See Sahlgren, op. cit., 239 and Finnur 



Jonsson, Lexicon Poeticum ed. 2, 1931, s.v. 
Aurboda. For other views see A. J6han- 
nesson, Isldndisches Etymologisches Worter- 
buch, 1956, 607. 

ig. SnE. Gylf. 3. . 

20. Ynglinga Saga IV and VII. 

21. Sgrla Pdttr loc. cit. 

22. SnE. Gylf. 22. 

23. See E. Hellquist, Svensk Etymologisk Ord- 
bok, 1, 1952, s.v. hor. 

24. See A. Olrik and H. Ellekilde, Nordens 
Gudeverden I, 1926-51, 535. 

25. See G. Knudsen, Nordisk Kultur XXVI, 
Religionshistork, 1942, 34-5. 

26. For further examples see R. Meissner, 
Die Kenningar der Skalden, 1921, 227. 

27. See A.Johannesson, op. cit., 522. 

28. Cf Meissner, op. cit., 406. 

29. Cf J. de Vries, Altgermanische Religions- 
geschkhte, ed. 2, II, 1957. 293 and 329. 

30. F. Strom, Nordisk Hedendom, 1961, 104, 
identifies Gefjun with Freyja and give3 a 
myth of Gefjun to Freyja. 

3 1 . Nordisk Kultur XXVI, Religionshistork, 60. 

32. See Olrik and Ellekilde, op. cit., 533 and 

33. Ibid., 540; further J. de Vries, Altnord. 
etymologisches Worterbuch, s.v. all, 5 and 

34. De Vries, Religionsgeschkhte II, 309, sup- 
plies a map giving a useful survey of 
such names. 



1. Cf Bruce Dickins, Rank and Herok 
Poems, 1915, pp. 18, 26, 30; H. Arntz, 
Handbuch der Runenkunde, ed. 2, 1944, 

2. SnE. Skdld. 17. 

3. Lokasenna 38. 

4. SnE. Gylf 21. 

5. See Gh. V. 

6. See G. Dumdzil, Mitra-Varuna, 1948, 
133 ff, and Les Dkux des Germains , 1959, 
40 ff. 

7. SnE. Gylf. 13. 

8. See Olrik and Ellekilde, Nordens Gudever- 
den I, 1926-51, 41 1, 425; G. Knudsen, 
Nordisk Kultur XXVI, Religionshistork, 
1942, 34. 

9. See M. Olsen, Norrone Studier, 1938, 63 ff, 
and Farms and Fanes of Ancient Norway, 
1928, 297 ; further F. R. Schroder, Ingun- 

ar-Freyr, 1941, 58 ff 

10. Jordanes, Getka V. 

11. Tacitus, Annals XIII, 57. 

12. Idem, History IV, 64. 

13. See E. Mogk in Reallexikon der ger- 
manischen Alter tumskunde, ed. J. Hoops, 
III, 1915-16, 1 98 ; further Dumfeil, Mit- 
ra-Varuna, 149. 

14. See R. Jente, Dk mythologischen Aus- 
driicke im altenglischen Wortschatz, 192 1, 
86 ff 

15. See Bruce Dickins, Essays and Studks by 
members of the English Association XIX, 
154 ff; F. M. Stenton, Trans. Roy. Hist. 
Soc. 4th series, XXIII, 1941, 15 ff; A. H. 
Smith, English Place-name elements II, 
1956, 180. 

16. See J. de Vries, Altgermanische Religions- 
geschkhte II, 1957. 25-6. 


1. SnE. Gylf. 17; Skdld. 22. 

2. Egils Saga LXXI ; further R. Meissner, 
Dk Kenningar der Skalden, 1921, 363 ff 
and 262 ff 

3. Haustlgng 15 {Skj. B, I, 17). 

4. Explanations are offered by Meissner, 
op. cit., 166 and by F. Jonsson, Lexicon 
Poeticum Antique Lingua Septentrionalis, ed. 
2, 1931, s.v. Ullr. 

5. See Gh. Ill, Th6r and the Giants. 

6. See Gh. VII, Njor5. 

7. On the relationship of Ska5i, Ull, 
Njor5 see esp. H. Schiick, Studier i nor- 
disk Literatur- och Religionshistoria, II, 
1904, 222 IT; further F. R. Schroder, 
Skadi und die Cotter Skandinauiens, 1 94 1 , 

1 ff and 74 ff 

8. See F. R. Schroder, Ingunar-Freyr; 1941, 
1-15; cf Chs. II, Lord of the Gallows, 
and XII. 

9. Cf Hj. Falk, Altnordische Waffenkunde, 
1914, 92. 

10. See G. Knudsen, Nordisk Kultur XXVI 
{Religionshistork), 1942, 36; A. Olrik and 
H. Ellekilde, Nordens Gudeverden I, 
1926-51, 477-8 and passim. 

11. See Ch. VII, Freyja, above; further 
M. Olsen, Hedenske Kultminder I, 1915. 
90 ff; J. de Vries, Tijdschrift voor neder- 
landseTaalenLetterkunde, hill, 1934 , 192 ff 

12. See M. Olsen, Nordisk Kultur XXVI 
{Religionshistork) 60 ff. 



13. Cf E. Wesson, Studier till Sveriges hedna 
mytologi ock fornhistoria, 1 924, 1 29 ff 

14. See Gh. XII below; further M. Olsen, 
Farms and Fanes of Ancient Norway, 1 928, 
263 ff. 

15. Nordisk Kultur XXVI (Religionshistorie) , 

16. See Gh. XII, below. 

17. Gesta Danorum III, 81-2. 

18. See Ch. IV, Saxo, above. 

19. See Meissner, op. cit., 166. 

20. Gesta I, 25. 

21. It has been widely discussed; see P. 

Herrmann, Danische Geschichte des Saxo 
Grammaticus II, 1922, no; G. Dum&il, 
La Saga de Hadingus, 1953, m footnote 
3; further Dumhzil, Mitra- Varuna, 1948, 

I5 2 ff - 

22. Tnglinga Saga III. 

23. See Gh. II, Father of Gods and Men, 

24. See J. Palmar, Acta Philologica Scandinavian 
V, 1930-1, 290 ff. 

25. Cf O. von Friesen, Nordisk Kultur VI, 
Runorna , 1923, 18. 

26. Rel. 2 , II, 1957, 162. 


1. See Gh. II, God of Poetry. 

2. See next section. 

3. Cf G. Vigfusson and F. York Powell, 

Corpus Poeticum Boreale II, 1883, 2 ff; 
Jon Johannesson, Afnuelisrit Dr. Einars 
Arndrssonar, n.d., 1 ff; G. Turville- 

Petre, Origins of Icelandic Literature, 
1953,36, and Skimir, 1954, 47 ff. 

4. Skj. B, I, 164-6. 

5. Ibid., 59. 

6. See Ch. IV, The West Norse Sources. 

7. Cf S. Nordal, tslenzh Meaning I, 1942, 

8. E.g. in bragarmal, bragarhattr. 

9. SnE. Gylf. 14. 

10. See S. Blondal, fslensk-donsk orSabok, 
1920-4, s.v. bragr. 

11. As in Asabragr ( Skirnismdl 33) . 

12. For a full discussion see H. Kuhn, Fest- 
gabe fur K. Helm, 1951, 41 ff. 


1. Ch. V. 

2. SnE. Skdld. 2-3. 

3. See E. H. Lind, Norsk-isldndska Dop- 
namn, 1915, s.v. Idunnr. 

4. G. Knudsen ( Nordisk Kultur XXVI, 
Religionshistorie, 1942, 36) considers that 
the Danish place-name Em (older 
Rhone) contains the name of Idunn. It 
could be a personal name. 

5. See Ch. I, Old Norse Poetry. 

6. See S. Bugge, Arkiv for nordisk flologi, 
V, 1889, 1 ff. 

7. See Saga Heidreks Konrngs, ed. Ch. 
Tolkien, i960, VII. 

8. Translation by P. W. Joyce, Old Celtic 
Romances, 1920, 58 and 63 ff. 

9. See Ch. II, God of Poetry. 

10. A text was edited by J. Pokorny, 
schrift fur Celtische Philologie, XVII, 1928, 
193 ff (with translation into German). 
Translation into French by H. d’Arbois 
de Jubainville, L’Epopee Celtique en It- 
lande, I, 1892, 385 ff See also J. Sey- 
mour, Irish Visions of the Other World, 
1930, 66 ff Valuable observations were 
also made by H. R. Patch, The Other 
World, 1950, especially 27 ff. 

11. See Osebergfundet, ed. A. W. Brogger, 
Hj. Falk, H. Schetelig, 1 9 1 7 ff, especi- 
ally I, 35, 7°> 73 i XI > 72. 

12. See Ch. VII, Freyr-Fro3i-Nerthus-Ing. 

13. Lokasenna, 17. 

14. See H. Gering and B. Sijmons, Kommen- 
tarzu den Liedern der Edda, I, 1927, 224-5. 


1. The names Gefn and Gefjun are probably 
related to the verb gefa (to give). See 
Alexander Jbhannesson, Islandisches Ety- 
mologisches Worterbuch, 1958, 188. 

2. SnE. Gylf. 1. 

3. Cf A. Holtsmark, Maal og Mime, 1944, 
169 ff 

4. See A. Olrik and H. Ellekilde, Nordens 
Gudeuerden II, 1951, 712 ff; G. Storms, 
Anglo-Saxon Magic, 1948, 172 ff. 

5. See Ch. VII, Freyja. 

6. SnE. Gylf. 23. 

7. See Olrik and Ellekilde, op. cit. I, 521, 

cf 509- 



Frigg and Some Others 

1. See Ch. IV, The West Norse Sources. 

2. See Ch. II, Woden-Wotan. 

3. See Ch. IV, Continental and English 

4. SnE. Gylf. 22. 

5. See Alexander Johannesson, Islandisches 
Etymologisckes Worterbuch, 1956, 1003. 

6. Lokasenna 26. 

7. See Ull, above. 

8. Gesta Danorum I, 25. 

9. Lokasenna 29 ; cf Ch. II, Woden-Wotan, 

10. See F. Strom, Nordisk Hedendom, 1961, 

I So- 

11. SnE. Gylf. 6 ; Skdld. 28. 

12. See B. Sijmons and H. Gering, Kommen- 
tar zu den Liedern der Edda, I, 1927, 290. 

13. See below, 

14. See Olrik and Ellekilde, op. cit., I, 518. 

15. Salomon and Saturn, ed. J. M. Kemble II, 
1847, 124; R. Jente, Die mythologischen 
Ausdriicke im altenglischen Wortschatz, 1921, 
107 ff. 

16. .Shi?. Gylf. 22. 

1 7. See R. Meissner, Die Kenningar der Skal- 
den, 1921, 405 ff. 

18. See Gh. Ill, Thor in the Viking Colonies. 


1. In The Sacral Kingship (Contributions to 
the Centra 1 Theme of the VUIth Inter- 
national Congress for the History of Re- 
ligions), 1959, conceptions of the sacral 
kingship in many lands and ages are 
described. See further E. O. James, 
The Ancient Gods, i960, 107 ff. 

2. Getica XIII. 

3. See J. de Vries, Altnordisches Etymolo- 
gisches Worterbuch , 1961, s.v. ass. 

4. Cf Arngrimur Jdnsson, Rerum Danicarum 
Fragmenta, I. 

5. Tnglinga Saga XI and XIV-XV. 

6. On suchlike conceptions see W. Baetke, 
Das Heilige im Germanischen, 1942, 147 ff. 

7. Tnglinga Saga XLII; see B. Adalbjar- 
narson, note ad loc. 

8. Fagrskinna, ed. F. Jdnsson, 1902-3, 383. 

9. Hkr. Hdfd. Sv. IX. 
ip. Agrip I. 

11. The Saga Library, The Stories of the Kings 
of Norway, I, 1893, 242 (—Hkr., Ol. 
Trygg. XVI). 

12. Olafs Saga hins Helga (The Legendary 
Saga), ed. O. A. Johnsen, 1922, I— II; 
c (Fib. II, 6-9. 

13. Fib. II, 135. 

14. Landnamabdk, ed. Finnur Jbnsson, 1900, 



Ermanaric , Sigurd and 

1. Detailed bibliography was given by H. 8. 
Schneider, Germanische Heldensage I-II, 

1933. Second edition with additional 
bibliography by R. Wisniewski, 1962. 

2. See C. Brady, The Legends of Ermanaric, 

1 943 ; G. Zink, Les Ugendes hiroiques de 
Dietrich et d’Ermrich, 1950. 

3. Skj. B, I, 1 ff 9. 

4. Cf E. A. Thompson, A History of Attila 

and the Huns, 1948, 65 ff. 10, 

5. SnE. Skdld. 48-9. 1 1, 

6. Ed M. Olsen, 1908, XXI. In this saga 

as in some other sources, difficulty is 12. 
overcome by identifying the valkyrie 13, 

with Brynhild. 14, 

7. See especially A. Heusler, Die Lieder der 15. 

Liicke im Codex Regius in Germanistische 
Abhandlungen H. Paul dargebracht, 1902, 16, 


the Burgundians 

See G. Vigfusson and F. York Powell, 
Sigfrid-Arminius, 1886; further O. Hofler 
in Festschrift fur F. R. Schrdder, 1959, 1 1 ff, 
re-issued with some additions as Sieg- 
fried, Arminius and die Symbolik, 1961. 
Full bibliography is given in these 

Some suggestions are mentioned by 
Hofler, op. cit., 22 ff 
Op. cit., 27 ff. 

See R. Much, Die Germania des Tacitus, 
ed.2, 1959, 318. 

See Hofler, op. cit., 96 ff. 

Reginsmdl ; SnE. Skdld. 47-8 
Vglsunga Saga XVIII. 

Fafnismal Strs. 12 ff; cf Vglsunga Saga, 
loc. cit. 

Fdfnismdl Strs. 31 ff; SnE. Skdld. 48; 
Vglsunga Saga XIX. 

31 1 


17. Fdfnismdl Strs. 2-4. 30. Cf Heidreks Saga, ed. Ch. Tolkien, i960, 

18. Ch s. I ff. 68. 

19. Vglsunga Saga XI-XII. 31. Reginsmdl 31 (prose) etc. 

20. Ibid., VIII. 32. Early Irish History and Mythology, 1946, 

21. Frd DauSa Sinfjgtla ; cf Vglsunga Saga X. 318 if. 

22. Attempts to attribute the exploit in 33. Ed. K. Meyer, Revue CeltiqueV, I95ff; cf 

Beowulf to Sigemund’s son, Sigfrit- G. Murphy, Duanaire Finn III, 1953, 

Sigurd, are forced. See J. Hoops, Kom- pp. L ff . 

mentor zum Beowulf, 1932, noff; F. 34. Nibelungenlied, Av. XV. 

Klseber, Beowulf, 1950, 160 ff. 35. See Death-tales of the Ulster Heroes, ed. 

23. The Origin of the English Nation, 1907, K. Meyer, 1906, 27. 

148 ff. 36, Pidreks Saga, ed. H. Bertelsen, 1 905-11, 

24. Sigmund has been identified in history CVI. 

as Sigimundus, a king of the Burgun- 37. See A. Heiermeier, Z eitschriftfur Celtische 
dians, who, according to Gregory of Philologie XXII, 1940, 58 ff. 

Tours (III, 5), murdered his son Sigi- 38. See G. Murphy, op. cit., p. XXI and 

ricus at the instigation of a stepmother references there given, 

in A.D. 522. See G. Schvitte, Sigfrid und 39. Gudrunarkvida II, Str.2; Vglsunga Saga 
Brunhild, 1935, 50-4. XXVII ; further O. Hofler, op. cit., 49 ff. 

25. See Hj. Falk, Odinsheite, 1924, svv. 40. See H. Zimmer, Keltische Beitrdge III, in 

26. V. Jansson, Nifiheim ( Sprdkvetenskapliga Zfiitsefaifi fur deutsches Altertum XXXV, 

Sallskapetsi Uppsala Forhandlingar, 1934-6, 1891. Contrast K. Meyer , Sitz. Ber. der 

75 ff) shows reason to doubt that there preuss. Akad . der Wissenschaften, 1918, 

was a Norse word nijl meaning ‘dark- 1042 ff; further A. Nutt, Waifs and Strays 

ness’, but the existence of such a word in of Celtic Tradition IV, 1891, pp. XXII ff. 

continental German cannot be ques- 41. See especially S. Bugge, The Home of the 
tioned. The Norse Niflungar is borrowed Eddie Poems, 1899, 107 ff, and Heier- 

from the Continent. meier, op. cit. 558 ff. 

27. Bragi, Ragnarsdrdpa 3 (Skj. B, I, 1) ; cf 42. On this point see especially J. de Vries, 

SnE.Skdld. 51. Betrachtungen zum Mdrchen, 1954, 98 ff; 

28. Nibelungensage und Nibelungenlied, 1922, Kelten und Germanen, i960, 130 ff and 

53 ff. passim. 

29. Nibelungenlied, Av. III. 


1. For the latter view see especially G. 
Dumdzil, Aspects de la Fonction Guerriere, 
1956, 80 and 107 ff. 

2. Gf Heidreks Saga, ed. Ch. Tolkien, i960, 

3. Heidreks Saga, loc. cit. See further P. 
Herrmann, Die Heldensage des Saxo 
Grammaticus, 1922, 422; H. Schneider, 
Germanische Heldensage II, 1933, 166-7 
and references. 

4. Cf J. de Vries, Germanisch-Romanische 
Monatschrift XXXVI, 1955, 290 ff. 

5. See E. A. Kock, Fornjermansk Forskning, 
1922, § 29. 

6. Gautreks SagaVll (= Vikarsbalkr, Str. 25) . 

7. Egils Saga ok Asmundar, XVIII. 

8. Including Tnglinga Saga XII and XXV. 
Arngrfmur Jonsson, Rerum Danicarum 
Fragmenta VIII-X; Noma-Gests Pdttr 

9. Saxo VIII, 265 ff. 

ro. Heidreks Saga (ed. Tolkien) 67. 

11. See Ch. Ill, Worship of Thor. 

12. Dum6zil (op. cit., in) gives an interpre- 
tation of this line which can hardly be 
intended seriously. The god prostrated * 
Starka5 in order to amputate his super- 
fluous arms: He chirurgien a d'abord “ter- 
rassd ” son patient .’ 

13. On the provenance of this passage see 
Jakob Benediktsson, Amgrimi Jonae, 
Opera Latirie conscripta, IV, 1957, 232-3. 

14. SnE. Skald. 25. 

15. Hdvamal Strs. 104-5 5 SnE. Skald. 6. 

16. SnE. Gylf. 5. 

17. Op. cit., 82 ff 

18. Saxo VII, 227. 

19. Op. cit., 389 ff. 

20. Helg ikvida Hundingsbana II, 27. 



21. See S. Bugge, The Home of the Eddie 23. Tnglinga Saga IX. 

Poems, 1899, 166 ff. 24. Ibid., loc. cit. 

22. Studier over de nordiske Gude- og Heltesagns 25. Hdrbardsljdd, str. 24. 
oprindelse, 1881-9, 3^3- 

Harald War tooth 

1. In Edda Snorra Sturlusonar, ed. Gu3ni 
Jonsson, 1949, 339. 

2. Sggur Danakonunga, ed. C. af Petersens 
and E. Olson, 1919-25, 3 ff. 

3. On Skjgldunga Saga see Jakob Benedikts- 
son, Bibliotheca Amamagnaana xii, 1957, 
107 ff. 

4. Skj. B, I, 117. 

5. Vglsunga Saga II. 

6. Saxo vii, 247. 

7. Ibid., 248. 

8. See P. Herrmann, Die Heldensagen des 
Saxo Grammaticus, 1 922, 524 ff. 

9. Saxo vii, 255. 

10. See especially Bjami GuSnason, Um 
Bravallapulu in Skirnir cxxxii, 1958, 82 ff, 
where full bibliographical notes are 

n. See A. Heusler in Reallexikon der ger- 
manischen Altertumskunde (ed. J. Hoops) 
II, 1913-15, 449. 

12. Skj. B, I, 164 ff. 

13. Ibid., 57 ff. 


1. Cf A. Olrik, Kilderne til Sakses Old- 
historie II, 1894, 1 ff. 

2. Cf Brot af Sigurdarkvidu Str. 17. 

3. Ibid., Str. 4, cf Vglsunga Saga XXXII. 

4. Cf Brennu-Njals Saga, ed. Einar Ol. 
Sveinsson, 1954, 303, note. 

5. Funds hostiis. 

6. SnE. Gylf. 34. 

7. See Ch. Ill, Thor and the Giants, 

8. Gf Olrik, op. cit., 8. 

9. Helgakvida Hundingsbana II, Str. 49. 

10. Reginsmdl Strs. 16 ff 

11. SnE. Gylf. 12. 

12. Also called Alstignus, Alstagnus, Haustuin. 
On the identification of this Viking with 
Hadding see Olrik, op. cit., 5; P. Herr- 
mann, Die Heldensagen des Saxo Grammati- 
cus 1922, 91 ff; and especially the criti- 
cism of G. Dum^zil, La Saga de Hadingus, 

J 953’ 17-18. 

13. On Hasting’s career see esp. J. Steen- 
strup, Normannerne II, 1878, passim. 

14. SnE. Gylf. 12. 

15. On this point see Dumezil, op. cit., 28 ff 

16. Yngl. S. IX. 

17. O. Elton’s translation, 40. 

18. Haldorr Skvaldri: hardel Haddings (the 
violent storm of Hadding, i.e. battle). 
See Skj. B, I, 460. 

19. Yngl. S., IV ; cf Lokasemia Str. 36. 

20. Lokasemia Str. 32. 

21. Cf Dumezil, op. cit., 118. 

22. See Qrvar-Odds Saga, ed. R. G. Boer, 

1888, 97, 100, 101, further 105; Heidreks 
Saga ed. Jon Helgason, 1924, 4 and 93. 

23. E.g. Flateyjarbdk ed. G. Vigfusson and 
C. R. Unger, I, i860, 24. 

24. Some critics have deduced that there 
was a singular Haddingi from the obscure 
lines of Gudrunarkvida II, Str. 22 : 

lyngfiskr langr (v.l. Iagar) 
lands Haddingja 
ax dskorit. 

See B. Sijmons and H. Gering, Kom- 
mentar zu den Liedern der Edda II, 1931, 
303. The form Haddingja in this passage 
is more likely to be gen. pi. 

25. Heidreks Saga, 4. 

26. Vol. I, 24. 

27. Historia Norwegue in Monumenta Historica 
Norveghe, ed. G. Storm, 1880, 82. 

28. In fact, the text of the Edda reads Had- 
dingjaskadi, but the form Haddingjaskati 
is found in the Flateyjarbdk, loc. cit. 

29. See Fernir Fornlslenkir Rimnaflokkar, ed. 
Finnur Jonsson, 1896, I7ff The under- 
lying traditions were carefully studied 
by U. Brown, SB VS. XIII, ii, 1947-8, 
51 ff 

30. In the Hrdmundar Saga Gripssonar, de- 
rived from the Griplur, the name ap- 
pears as Haldingr (pi. Haldingjar), See 
Fornaldar Sogur Nardurlanda ed. GuSni 
Jonsson, II, 1950, 415 ff 

31. Called Lara in Hrdmundar Saga, 416-17. 

32. See Runic and Heroic Poems, ed. B. 
Dickins, 1915, 20. 



33. See R. Much in Reallexikon der ger- 39. For examples see Finnur Jbnsson, 

maniscken Alter tumskunde II, 1913-15, 452. Lexicon Poetkum Antiquae Linguae Sep- 

34. Hkr., Tngl. S. XVII. tentrionalis, ed. 2. 1931, s.v. haddr. 

35. Germania xliii. 40. Saxo, vi, 185. 

36. See R. Much, Die Germania des Tacitus, 41. Tngl. S. VII. 

ed. 2, 1959, 380. 42. Cf Clafur Larusson, Log og Saga, 1958, 

37. See N. Lid, Nordisk Kultur xxvi ( Reli - 145. 

gionshistorie) , 1942, 118-19; further 43. Op. cit., 127-8. 

M. Olsen, Hedenske Kultminder i norske 44. Edition cited, 38. 

stedsnavne I, 1915, 248 ff. 45. See J. E, Turville-Petre, Hengest and 

38. Cf Old English heord. See J. de Vries, Horsa in SB VS. xiv, 4, 1956-7, 273 ff. 

Altnordisches Etymologisches Worterbuch, 46. Ed. Finnur Jdnsson, 1892-6, 503-4. 

1961, s.v. haddr. 


The Disir 

X. Viga-GUms Saga , V ; Heidreks Saga, ed. 20. Kristnt Saga VII. 

J. Helgason, 1924, 91. The ‘winter- 21. See F. Strom, An, VIII, 1952, 80 ff. 

nights’ are the three days when winter 22. For further examples of autumn festivals 

begins, falling about mid-October. see A. Olrik and E. Ellekilde, Nordens * 

2. Egils Saga XLIV. Gudeveden II, 1951, 861 ff. 

3. Viga-Glums Saga V. 23. See Ch. XII. 

4. Heidreks Saga (ed. Ch. Tolkien, i960), 24. SnE. Gylf 22. 

VII ; Tnglinga Saga XXIX. 25. Heidreks Saga (ed.Tolkien) , VII. 

5. Ed. J. Helgason, 91, 26. Lfarro disir (Grimnismdl 53). 

6. For a rather different view see J. de 27. Tdr munu daudar /disir allar ( Hdlfs Saga ok 

Vries, Acta Philologica Scandinavica, VII, Hdlfsrekka XV). 

1931-2,175. 28. Atlamal 28 (vceri, varit MS.) . 

7. Hdlfs Saga ok Hdlfsrekka, XV. 2g. Viga-Glums Saga XIX. 

8. Vplsunga Saga XXXVII ; cf. Atlamal, 28. 30. Bjarnar Saga Hitdrelakappa, XXXII. 

9. Hvgttumk at disir ( Hamdismdl , 28). 31. Cf. My paper in Early English and Norse 

10. In the Krdkumdl 29 (Skj. B, 1,656) the Studies Presented to Hugh Smith, 1963, xg6 ff. 

dying hero says : heim bjoda mir disir (the 32. See M. Olsen in Nordisk Kultur, XXVI, 
disir invite me home). The disir appear 1942, 60 ff 

in this context to be valkyries. 33. See Ch. VIII, Ull. 

1 1. Sigrdrifumdl, 9. 34. See M. Olsen, Hedenske Kultminder i norske 

12. E.g. Imundis, ‘battle-goddess’, ‘valkyrie’, stedsnavne,!, 1915, 70, 178, 18 1 ff; Strom- 

Haustlgng 17 (Skj. B, I, 17). back, op. cit., 48. 

13. See D. Hofmann, Nordisch-englische 35. Ed. Tolkien, 67. 

Lehnbegiehungen der Wikingergeit, 1955, 36. Ed. G. Storm, Monumenta Historica Nor- 

140 ff and references. vegiie, 1880,101; see note ad loc. on a 

14. See esp. K. F. Johansson, Skrifter utg. av. textual difficulty. 

Kungl. hum. vetenskapssamfundet i Uppsala, 37. See F. Strom, Diser, Nornor, Valkyrjor, 
XX, 1, 1918, 103 ff. 1954, 42 ff. 

15. Pidranda Pdttr in Fib. I, 418-21, and 38. See Strom, op. cit., 41. This interpreta- 

Fornmanna Sogur II, 1826, 192-7. The tion is doubtful because of the syntax of 

latter text is followed here. the Tnglinga Tal. Snorri (SnE. Skdld. 

16. Njdls Saga XCVI. 86) cites a form ioddis (sic), meaning 

17. This motive is far from clear. Thorhall ‘sister’. The sister of Ulf and Nari is, of 

the Prophet survived the feast, and the course, Hel. 

man who was to die was not a prophet. 39. See G. Gjessing in Viking, VII, 1943, 5 ff 
x8. See D. Stromback, Tidrande och Diserna, 40. See J. K. Bostock, Old High German 
ig49, 14 ff and references; cf G. Tur- Literature, 1955, 17. 

ville-Petre, Saga-Book of the Viking 41. See J. de Vries, RelP II, 288 ff, where 
Society XIV, 1-2, 19535-, 137 ff useful references are given. 

19. Op. cit., passim. 42. De Temporum Ratione, XV. 



Fylgja and Hamingja 

1. ‘Wraith’, ‘double-ganger’ might be 10. Havardar Saga Isfirdings XX; Njdls Saga 

possible in some dialects. LXII. 

2. See G. Turville-Petre, Saga-Book of the II. Vatnsdala Saga XLII. 

Viking Society, XII, Part II, 1940, 1 19 ff; 12. Cf W. Henzen, Vber die Traume in der 

further A. Johannesson, Isldndisches altnord. Saga-Litteratur, 1890, 38 ; further 

Etymologisches Worterbuch, 1956, 558. R. Mentz, Die Traume in den altfran- 

3. See Jonas Jonasson, Islengkir Pjddfusttir, gosschen Karls- und Artus Epen, 1888. 

1934 ) 2 6i ff 13. The Icelandic sal is believed to be bor- 

4. Cf E. O. James in Encyclopedia of Religion rowed from the Old English sauil, sauiol. 

and Ethics, 1908-26, s.v. Tutelary gods and See Alexander Jbhannesson, op. cit., 1 146. 

spirits-, also A. C. Krujt in the same 14. Havardar Saga XX. 

publication under Indonesians. 15. See Ch. II, Cdinn and his Animals. 

5. See G. Turville-Petre, Dreams in Ice- 16. Vatnsdcela Saga XXX; cf W. H. Vogt’s 

landic Tradition, Folklore LXIX, 1958, introduction to this saga (1921), 

93 ff, and another article at press. p. LXXIV. 

6. Njdls Saga XLI. 17. See my paper in Saga-Book cited above, 

7. Ljosvetninga Saga XI. esp. 125 and note 3 ad loc. 

8. Vdpnfrdinga Saga XIII; cf Ljdsvetninga 18, Atlam&l, 19. 

Saga XVI. 19. On the formation of the compound 

9. Njdls Saga XXXIII; Qrvar-Odds Saga hamingja see Johannesson, op. cit., 210. 

(ed. R. C. Boer, 1888), 22-3. 20. Viga-GUms Saga IX. 

Elves, earth-spirits , dwarfs 

1. Kormdks Saga XXII (fslengk Fomrit 14. Cf Matthias L>6r5arson, Pjddminjasafh 

VIII, 1939); see Einar Cl. Sveinsson, Islands, 1914,8; 6 l.Bnem,Heidinn Sidurd 
note ad loc. Islandi, 1945, 75, note x. 

2. Hkr. Cl. Helg. XCI. 15. Ed. F. Jdnsson, 1892-6, 167. Thehomily 

3. See A. Olrik and H. Ellekilde, Nordens is traceable, not to Augustin, as is said in 

Gudeverden,!, 1926-51, x 69 ff; Ellekilde in the Hauksbok and elsewhere, but to 

Acta Philologica Scandinavica VIII, 1933-4, Gasarius of Arles. I am indebted to 

182 ff. For another view see J. de Vries, Joan Turville-Petre for this information. 

Acta Phil. Scand. VII, 1932—3, 169 ff. See A version of this homily was also given 

also Ch. XIII below. by Tilfric, Lives of Saints, ed, W. W. 

4. Heidreks Saga, ed. J. Helgason, 1924, 91. Skeat, I, 1881, 368 ff 

5. SnE. Gylf 9. 16. See Ch. Ill, Thor’s Hammer. 

6. See R. Jente, Die mythologischen Ausdrikke *7- Sir. 43 \ cfSnE., Gylf. 26. 

im altenglischen Wortschatg, 1921,1671!; *6. Saga Heidreks Konungs, ed. Ch. Tolkien, 

also G. Storms, Anglo-Saxon Magic, 1948, 196°, 68. 

140 ff and 248 ff 19. SnE. Skdld. 63. 

7. Biorn Haldorsen, Lexicon 1, 1 8 14, 23 ; fur- 
ther N. Lid, Maal ogMinne, 1921, 37 ff 

8. See J6nas Jonasson, Islengkir Pjddhattir 
1934, 406 ff 

9. As used in the saga the word landvattir 
seems to correspond with landdlfr (land- 
elf), used by Egill in str. 29. 

10. Ed. F. Jonsson, 1900, 215, 102. 

11. Ibid. 101, 214. 

12. Hkr., 6 l. Trygg. XXXIII. 

13. On the origin of this motive see Einar 
Cl Sveinsson, Dating the Icelandic Sagas , 
1958, 85-6. 

20. Hdvamdl 143 and 160. 

21. SnE. Gylf. 7. 

22. See S. Gutenbrunner, Arkiv fbr nordisk 
Filologi, LXX. 1955, 61 ff 

23. Vafprudnismdl 21. 

24. Skj 3 , 1 , 156 (HallireSr) and 321 (Arnor). 

25. Cf Historia Norvegia (ed. G; Storm in 
Monumenta Historica Norvegia, 1880) 97, 

26. See A. Olrik and H. Ellekilde, Nordens 
Gudeverden I, 1926-51, 351 and refs. 

27. Alvissmil 16. 

28. SnE. Gylf 21 ; Skdld. 47. 

29. Hdvamdl 143. 

30. Alvissmdl 2. 




1. Germania IX, 

2. See esp. R. Jente, Die mythologischen 
Ausdriicke im altenglischen Wortschatz, 1921, 
7ff; further S. Feist, Etym. Worterbuch 
der gotischen Sprache, 1923, s.v. alhs. 

3. Gutalag och Guta Saga, ed. H. Pipping, 

1905-7^ 7 , 63. . . 

4. See J. Grimm, Teutonic Mythology 
(transl. J. S. Stallybrass) , I, 1900, 79 ff. 

5. Historia Ecclesiastica I, 30; II, 15. 

6. Ibid., II, 13. 

7. Landndmabok, ed. Finnur Jonsson, 1900, 

221, 197. 

8. Norges gamle Love, ed. R. Keyser and 
P. A. Munch, etc., 1846-95, II, 308. 

9. See General Bibliography. 

xo. See M. Olsen, Farms and Fanes of Ancient 
Norway, 1928, 280. 

11. A summary is given by A. Olrik and 
H. Ellekilde, Nordens Gudeverden, I, 
1926-51, 528 ff- 

12. Edition cited, 172. 

13. See further W. Baetke, Das Heilige im 
Germaniscken, 1 942, esp. 80 ff. 

14. SnE. Gy If. 22. , 

1 5. Kormdks Saga, X ; see Einar OI. Svemsson, 
Islenzk Fomrit VIII, i 939 > 237 note. 

16. It seems to be used in that sense by the 
Icelandic scald, Einar Sk&Iaglamm 
(died c. 995) in Vellekla 15 and Hdkonar 
Drdpa 1 ( Skj . B, I, 119, 116) 

17. Edition cited, 158. 

18. Skj. B, II, 322, 1 ; B, 1 , 527, 9. 
ig. SnE. Gylf. VII. 

20. See Olsen, op. cit., 283; Norges gamle love 

21. See D. Bruun, Fortidsminder og Nutidshjem 
' paa Island, 1928,48 ff; further Bruun and 

F. Jbnsson, Aarboger for nordisk Oldkyn- 
dighed og Historic, 1909, 245 ff 

22. See Aa. Roussell, Fomtida Gardar i 
Island, 19433 217. 

23. Cf Einar Ol. Sveinsson, Islenzk Fornnt, 
IV, 1935, Introduction, § 2. 

24. Described in many works. See Cl. 
Briem, Heidinn SiSur d Islandi, 1945, 

1 37 ff See also plan. 

25. See Rousell, op cit., 219. 

26. Ibid., 201 ff. 

27. See Plate 6. 

28. Edition cited, 96. 

29. See especially Olsen, op. cit., 263 ff. 

30. Hkr., Hdk. Gdda XIV ; 6 l. Trygg. LIX and 


31. Njdls Saga, LXXXVIII. 

32. Gesta Hammaburgensis Eccleshe Pontificum, 
ed. B. Schmeidler, 1917, Book IV, 
XXVI ff. 

33. See Ch. IX, above. 

34. For Norwegian and Icelandic examples 
see G. Turville-Petre, Medieval Studies, 
XI, 1949, 206 ff. 

35. In Fornvannen, XVIII, I 949 > 206 ff 

36. SnE. Skald., 43. 

37. See Grimm, op. cit., 1, 84. 

38. Vatnsdo’la Saga, XXX; Kjalnesinga Saga, 

39. See E. Wesson, Studier till Sveriges hedna 
mytologi, 1924, 183 ff 

40. See Grimm, op. cit., 113. 

41. Hist. Eccl. Ill, 22. 

42. Kjalnesinga Saga, II. 

43. Harder Saga ok Holmverja, XIX. On 
Thorgera see F. R. Schroder, Ivgunar - 
Freyr, 1941, 48 ff 

44. Hkr., Ol.Helg. CXII; cf Olafs Sagahins 
Helga (The Legendary' Saga), ed. 
O. A. Johnsen, 1922, XXXIV ff. 

45. Fib. I, 400. 

46. Islenzk Fomrit IX, ed. J. Kristjdnsson, 
I95ff 109 ff. 

47. See J. Kristjansson, op. cit.. Introduc- 
tion, LXI; A. H. Krappe, Acta Philo- 
logica Scandinavica, III, 1928-9, 226 ff 

48. For further examples see Grimm, 
op. cit., I, 213, 251 ff 

49. Hallfredar Saga, VI. 

50. Vatnsdcda Saga, X; cf Landndmabok, 
edition cited, 182. 

51. See Plate 13. 

52. Cf Plate 44. 

53. See Plates 17-18. Further S. U. Palme, 
Kristendomens genombrott i Sverige, 19593 97 


54. See Plates 7-1 1. 

55. Ci Fornmanna Sogur, II, 1826, 324 ff; Saga 
(jldfs Tryggvasonar of Oddr Snorrason, ed. 
F. Jbnsson, 1932, 221-2. 

56. Fdstbrcedra Saga, XXIII. 

57. Laxdwla Saga, XXIX. 

58. The Husdrdpa of Gif Uggason, (Skj., 
B, I, 128 ff). See Ch. I, OldNorse Poetry. 

5g. Ibid. 

60. See Plate 39. 

61. Plates 22-3. 

62. Norges gamle love, I, 383 ; cf E. Mogk in 
Reallexikon der germanischen Altertums- 
kunde, II, I9 I 3~ I 53 3 11 


63. Cf F. Strom, Am, VII, 1951, 23 ff. i960, VIII. 

64. Landndmabdk, edition cited, 5. 68. Vatnsdtela Saga, XXXIV . 

65. Hkr. 6 l. Trygg., XXVII. 69. See A. Liestol, Maal og Mime, 1 945, 

66. Hkr., 6 l. Trygg., LXIV ; cf Ragnars Saga 59 ff; K. Liestol, Am, II, 1946, 94 ff. 

Lodbrdkar, IX. The ox in the story of 70. Fib. I, 401. 

Thiddrandi (see Ch. XI) was called 71. Germania, X. 

Spamadr (Prophet). 72.. See Ch. XIII, below. 

67. Helga Kvida Hj. 30, prose; cf The Saga of 73. Fib. I, 291 ff. 

King Heidrek the Wise, ed. Ch. Tolkien, 


1. Hkr., Hdk. Gdda, XIV. 

2. See p. 259 below. 

3. See Einar Cl. Sveinsson, Islenzk Fomrit 
IV, 1935, XIII ff; Bjarni A 9 albjarnar- 
son, Islenzk Fomrit XXVI, 1941, p. 
LXXXVIII ; Johannes Halldorsson, 
Islenzk Fomrit XIV, 1959, pp. VIII ff. 

4. See Ch. XII, p. 241 above. 

5. Betra er obeSit en s£ of biotit 

ey s6r til gildis gjgf, 

betra er osent en s 6 ofsbit ( Havamdl , 145) . 

6. See Ch. XII, p. 237 above. 

7. See J. Grimm, Teutonic Mythology 
(transl. J. S. Stallybrass), I, 1900, 56. 

8. See H. Shetelig and Hj. Falk, Scandina- 
vian Archaeology, 1937, 187 ff. 

9. HymiskviSa, str. 1. 

10. De Bello Gothico II, 14, 15 ; cf F. Nansen, 
In Northern Mists, I, 1911, 139 ff 

1 1. Guta Lag och Guta Saga, ed. H. Pipping, 

19073 63. 

12. Monumenta Historica Norvegie, ed. G. 
Storm, 1880, 98. 

13. Illuminating observations on this prob- 
lem were made by K. Johansson, Skrifter 
utgifna af kutigl. humanistiska vetenskaps- 
samfundet i Uppsala XX, 1919, esp. 94 ff. 

14. See H. Birkeland, Nordens Historic i Mid- 
delalderen etter arabiske kilder, 1954, 14 ff. 

15. Cf F. Strom, On the Sacral Origin of the 
Germanic Death Penalties, 1942, 144 ff. 

16. See F. Strom, Nordisk Hedendom, 1961, 32. 

17. A summary was given by A. Olrik and 
H. Ellekilde, Nordens Gudeverden, I, 
1926-51, 470 ff 

18. See A. Liestol, Maal og Minne, XXXVII, 
1945, 59-66; K. Liestol, Am, II, 1946, 

19. Kristni Saga XII; cf Hkr. 01 . Trygg. 

20. The question has been discussed most 
thoroughly by F. Strom, On the Sacral 
Origin; and in Saga och Sed, 1952, 51 ff. 
Another view was expressed by D. 
Stromback, Saga och Sed, 1942, 51 ff 

21. Orkneyinga Saga, ed. S. Nordal, 1916, 12. 

22. Skj. B, I, 232; cf E. A. Kock, Notationes 
Norrcew, 1923-44, § 3224. 

23. For further examples see B. Sijmons and 
H. Gering, Kommentar zu den Liedern der 
Edda II, 1931, 182. 

24. CfJ. de Vries, Rel. 2 I, 41 1. 

25. Heidreks Saga, ed. JonHelgason, 1924,54 
and 129. 

26. On the origin of this word see Sijmons 
and Gering, op. cit., II, 60 and references. 

27. Skj. B, I, 661. 

28. Ed. J6n Johannesson, Islenzk Fomrit 
XI, 1950, 185 ff 

29. Hkr. 6 l. Trygg. LXIV. 

30. Skj. B, I, 669. 

31. Hkr. Hdk. Gdda XVIII. 

32. The name Vglsi is probably derived 
from vglr (staff). 

33. Diser, Nomor Valkyrjor, 1954, 22 ff, 

34. Skj. B, I, 659. 

35. Haustlgng, Str. 12 (Skj. B, I, 16). 

36. See F. Strom, Diser, 22 ff, partly follow- 
ing K. F. Johansson, op. cit. 

37. See Hj. Falk, Altnordischc Waffendkunde, 
19M3 56. 

38. Hkr. Ol. Trygg. XXVII. 

39. Vellekla 36 (Skj. B, I, 124). 

40. Skj. B, I, 292. 

41. Fib. II, 72. 

42. Skj. B, I, 94. 

43. Hkr. Ol. Trygg. XXXV. 

44. Cf M. Cahen, Etudes sur le vocabulaire 
religieux du vieux Scandinave, 1921,172 ff; 
also R. Meissner in Deutsche Islandfor - 
schung I, 1930, 232 ff 

45. Ed. Finnur Jdnsson, 1903,85. 

46. Cf G. Sverdrup, Rauschtrank und Labe- 
trank, 1941, 3 ff. 

47. Eyrbyggja Saga, IV; Landndmabdk, ed. 
Finnur Jbnsson, 1900, 96. 

48. This has been questioned. See Cl. 
L&russon in Kulturhistorisk Leksikon for 
nordisk Middelalder, V, i960, 363 ff and 




refs.; idem. L6g og Saga, 1958, esp. 63 ff 
and 91 ff. 

49. Grdgds, I, B, ed. V. Finsen, 1852, 206. 

50. See J6n Johannesson, Islendinga Saga, 
I, 1956, 81 ff. 

51. Axi, Islendingabdk, II. 

52. Landndmabdk, edition cited, 208, 94. 

53. Cf Jon Jdhannesson, op. cit., 72 ff. It is 
-questionable whether the term hofgodi 
necessarily implied political as well as 
religious functions. Cf Bjorn Sigfusson, 
Islenzk Fomrit, X, 1940, 169 note. 

54. J. de Vries (Re l. 1 2 I, 40 x ; following W. 

Krause) cites an example from a Nor. 
wegian inscription of c. 400, but the 
reading is doubtful. 

55. See Nordisk Kultur, VI, Runorna, ed. O. 
von Friesen, 1933, iQoff 

56. Hkr., Hdk. Goda, XIV. 

57. Cf Jon Johannesson, op. cit., 79. 

58. See M. Olsen, The Farms and Fanes of 
Ancient Norway, 1928, 287 ff 

59. Cf Ch. VII, Freyr-Fro3i-Nerthus-Ing, 

60. De Bello Gallico, VI, 2 1 . 

61. Historia Ecclesiastica, II, 13. 


1. See Chs. XI and XIII. 

2. See Ch. XII. 

3. See S. Nordal, Atruna&ur Egils Skalla - 
grimssonar, in Afangar II, 1944, 103 ff 

4. Hrolfs Saga Kraka, ed. D. Slay, i960, 

5. Ketils Saga Hangs, V. 

6. Qrvar-Odds Saga, ed. R. C. Boer, 1888, 


7. Ed. Finnur Jonsson, 1900, 134. 

8. Ibid., 132. 

9. For this view see A. G. van Hamel, 
Acta Philologica Scandinavica, VII, 1932, 
260 ff. 

10. Finnboga Saga hins Ratnma, ed. H. Gering, 
1879, XIX. 

11. Hkr., 61. Helg., CCI ff; 6lafs Saga hins 
Helga, ed. O. A. Johnsen (The Legen- 
dary Saga) , LXXII ff 

12. Hkr., 6l. Helg. CCXV. 

13. Porvalds Pdtlr Tasalda, ed. J6nas Krist- 
jdnsson in fslengk Fomrit, IX, 1956, 
123 ff 

14. See Ch. I, Old Norse Poetry. 

15. For an attempt to restore the sequences 
see J. de Vries, Arkiv for nordisk Filologi, 

LX, 1934, 21 ff. 


1. See Chs. I, Histories and Sagas; IX 
and X. 

2. See Ch. VII, Freyja, etc. 

3. Laxdala Saga XVII. 

4. Svarfdtela Saga XXII. 

5. Hcensa-Poris Saga XVII; see further 
Jonas Jonasson, fslenzkirPjddhattir, 1934, 

6. Eyrbyggja Saga XXXIII ff; closely simi- 
lar stories are given in Egils Saga 
LVIII and in Grettis Saga XXII ff See 
further Matthias £>6r5arson in Festskrift 
til Finnur Jonsson, 1928, 95 ff. 

7. On the ndbjargir see Matthias &6r6arson, 
op. cit., 99 ff and references. 

8. The same motives appear in the story 
of the ghosts at Fr63A ( Eyrbyggja Saga 

LIU ff) 

9. Glim also had to be killed a second 
time ( Grettis Saga XXXV) . 

10. A mysterious ox named Harri (Lord) 
was also a dapple grey (apalgrdr). See 
Laxdala Saga XXXI. 

11. SnE. Gylf, 4. 

1 2 . The names Nijlhel, Niflheimr are generally 
interpreted in this way, although V. 
Jansson has shown that there are some 
reasons to doubt whether this interpre- 
tation is correct. See Ch. X, Ermanaric, 
Footnote 26 above. 

13. Gisla Saga XIV. 

14. See Cl. Briem, Heitinn Sidur d Islandi, 

15. See Kristj&n Eldjarn, Kami og Haugfi, 
1956, 215-18. 

16. Cf J. Brondsted, The Vikings, i960, 272. 

17. See de Vries, Rel. 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 , 1,105 and 47 rff - 

18. Fib. I, 436. 

19. See Eldj&rn, op. cit., 246-9. 

20. See Chs. VII, Freyr-Fr63i-Nerthus-Ing ; 

21. Gunnar’s faithful dog, S£m, is particu- 
larly famous. See Njdls Saga LXX, 

22. See Eldjarn, op. cit., 249 ff 

23. Landndmabdk, ed. Finnur Jonsson, 1900, 

24. See Ol. Briem, op. cit., 100. 


25. J. Brondsted, The Vikings, i960, 134. 

26. Saga Olafs Tryggvasonar, ed. Finnur 
Jdnsson, 1932, 14-15. 

27. See Saga-Book of the Viking Society VI, 
Part II, 1910, 180 ff 

28. See H. Birkeland, Nordens historic i mid- 
delalderen etter arabiske kilder, 1955. A 
translation of Ibn Fadlan’s description 
of the cremation was published by C. 


1. Sne. Gylf. 4-9. 

2. See J. de Vries, Acta Philologica Scandi- 
navica V, 1929, 41 ff. 

3. Snorri identifies Ymir and Aurgelmir. 

In the Vafprudnismdl (strs. 2 1 and 30) 
they seem to be distinguished. 

4. Also Audumla. The first element in the 
cow’s name must be audr (riches) ; the 
second element has been associated with 
English dialect hummel, humble and re- 
lated words meaning ‘hornless cow’. 

5. The name Embla has been related to 

Greek (vine), and supposed 

to mean some kind of creeper. See S. 
Nordal, Voluspd, 1923, 51-2. 

6. I have discussed the word ludr briefly in 
Collection Latomus XLV (Hommages k 
Georges Dum^zil), i960, 209 ff, where 
references will be found. 

7. Cf Nordal, op. cit., 38. 

8. On Hathor see E. O. James, The Ancient 
Gods, i960, 82 ff. 

9. On Iranian creation myths, see R. C. 
Zaehner, The Dawn and Twilight of 
Zoroastrianism, 1961, especially 203, 

10. Ibid., 207-8. 

11. See J. de Vries, Altnordisches Etymolo- 
gisches Worterbuch, 1961, s.v. Ymir. The 
name of Tuisto (or Tuiscol), said by 
Tacitus to be the first ancestor of the 
Germans (Germania II), is believed to 
mean either ‘twin’ or ‘hermaphrodite’. 
See R. Much, Die Germania des Tacitus, 
ed. 2, 1959, 22 ; further F. R. Schroeder, 
Germanisch-Romanische Monatschrift, XIX, 
1931, 8 ff. 

12. SnE. Gylf. 8 ; cf Grimnismdl str. 29. 

Waddy in Antiquity, 1934, 58 ff Some 
of the phrases used here are taken from 
that translation. 

29. Saxo, Gesta, I, 31; cf Gh. X, Hadding, 

30. Helga Kvida Hundingsbana II, 49. 

3 1 . See Gh. XIV, above. 

32. Helga Kvida Hundingsbana II, 51 (prose). 


13. See my paper in English and Medieval 
Studies presented to J. R. R. Tolkien, 1962, 
241 ff 

14. Cf Nordal, op. cit., 37. 

15. See Gh. V, above. 

16. Reading galgvidr with the Hauksbdk; the 
Codex Regius has gaglvidr. See Nordal, 
op. cit., 83. 

17. See Ch. VIII, T^r. 

18. The ship, bearing Loki and the demon 
sons of Misspell, may reasonably be 
called the ‘ship of death’. It is not, how- 
ever, necessary to associate its name, 
Naglfar, with Latin necare (to kill) and 
Greek vexpo? (corpse), as has often 
been done. Snorri (Gylf. 37) explains 
that the ship was built of the uncut 

• nails of the dead, apparently re- 
flecting a widespread belief. For a dis- 
cussion of this problem see H. Lie, Maal 
og Minne, 1954, 152 ff 

19. Probably from Gimj-hld meaning ‘fire- 
shelter’. Giml6 escapes the fire of Rag- 

20. Op. cit., 106 ff. 

21. Skj. B, I, 164 ff 

22. Ibid., 60. 

23. Kormdks Saga XIX. 

24. Skj. B, I, 321. 

25. In the Fdfnismdl (str. 15) the field is 
called Oskdpnir, a name not yet ex- 

26. Ragnarok (transl. W. Ranisch), 1922, 
19 ff and 331 ff See further Zaehner, 
op. cit., 135. 

27. For various suggestions see J. K. Bos- 
tock, A Handbook on Old High German 
Literature, 1955, 122 ff 



The following bibliographical notes are intended for the general reader who may wish to 
read further on one subject or another. In order to help those who are less experienced 
the languages in which works are written are indicated in cases where there could be any 
doubt. The following abbreviations are used : 


















J. Grimm, Deutsche Mythologie (1835 an d subsequently) was translated into English with some 
additions by J. S. Stallybrass {Teutonic Mythology, 4 vols 1883-1900). It covers the pagan 
religion of all Germanic peoples and is a mine of valuable information. J. de Vries, Altgerm- 
anische Religionsgesckichte (I — II, first edition 1935-7 J second edition greatly altered- 1956-7, G ) 
is a splendid handbook, containing nearly exhaustive bibliography. J. A. MacCulloch { The 
Mythology of all Races, II, Eddie , 1 930, E) gave a sound if rather old-fashioned account. In Les 
Dieux des Germains (ed. 2, 1959, F), G. Dum6zil presented an interesting personal interpreta- 
tion of many Norse myths, which he saw as part of an Indo-European heritage. A particu- 
larly well-balanced sketch is that of Olafur Briem, Heidinn Sidur a Islandi (1945, 1 ). F. Strom 
(Nordisk Hedendom, 1961, S) gave a lively study in popular form. Nordisk Kultur XXVI, Re- 
ligionshistorie (ed. N. Lid, 1942) contains authoritative essays in various languages by many 
scholars. The evidence is there drawn largely from place-names. A. Olrik and H. Ellekilde 
(Nordens Gudeverden I — II, 1926-51, D) have drawn much useful information from Scandina- 
vian traditions of later times. 


THE SOURCES. Introductory 

The early history of Iceland was described by K. Gjerset (History of Iceland, 1925, E) and with 
greater acumen by J6n Jdhannesson (tslendinga Saga, I, 1956, 1 ). On the history of Norway see 
especially H. Shetelig: Det norske folks liv og historic (I, 1929, N), and of Denmark, E. Arup 
(Danmarks Historic I, 1925, D). See further L. Musset, Les Peuples Scandinaves au moyen Age 
(1951, F, good bibliography) ; G. Turville-Petre, The Heroic Age of Scandinavia (1951 , E). 

An excellent introduction to Celtic heathendom, with extensive bibliography, is that of 
J. de Vries, Keltische Religion {1961, G). 

Among many books on runes, the following may be recommended: H, Arntz, Handbuch 
der Runenkunde (ed. 2, 1944, G) ; R..W. V. Elliott, Runes (1959, E) ; S. B. F. Jansson, The Runes 
of Sweden (1962, E). 

An introduction to Scandinavian place-names will be found in Nordisk Kultur, V, Stedsnavn 
(ed. M. Olsen, 1939, in various languages). M. Olsen, Farms and Fanes of Ancient Norway 




(translated into English by Th. Gleditsch, 1928) is a humane and lucid discussion of many 
place-name problems. The same author’s Hedenske Kultminder i norske Stedsnavne (I, 1915, N) is 
a monumental work. 

H. Shetelig and Hj. Falk ( Scandinavian Archaeology, 1937, E) gave an enjoyable general in- 
troduction to Scandinavian archaeology. M. Stenberger’s Sweden (no date, probably 1962, E) 
is comprehensive, but the terminology is unusual. On the rock carvings of the Bronze Age 
see O. Almgren, Hdllristningar och Kultbruk (1927, S). 

The Old Norse Poetry 

Among the most authoritative and appreciative works on Old Norse poetry is that of Einar 
Ol. Sveinsson {Islemjcar Bokmenntir i Fornold, I, 1962, 1 ). A. Heusler, Die altgermanische Dich- 
tung (ed. 2, 1941, G) is solid and reliable. Vries, Altnordische Lileratursgeschichte (I— II, 1 941-2 
G) is useful especially for the older period. Finnur Jonsson, Den oldnorske og oldislandske Litt- 
eraturs Historic (ed.2, 1920-4, D) is of lasting value although often marred by prejudice. Jon 
Helgason, Norges og Islands Digtning (in Nordisk Kultur, VIII, B, 1952, D) is an admirably 
well-balanced survey. B. S. Phillpotts, The Elder Edda and Ancient Scandinavian Drama (1920, E) 
is persuasive, although the views expressed are somewhat extreme. 

There are many editions of the Poetic Edda of varying merit. Among the best may be 
mentioned Edda, die Lieder des Codex Regius, ed. G. Neckel (ed. 4, revised by H. Kuhn, 1 962) ; 
Eddadigte, ed. Jon Helgason (I— III, 1951-2, not complete). 

Translations include those of H. A. Bellows {The Poetic Edda, 1923 and subsequently), and 
of L. M. Hollander {The Poetic Edda, ed. 2, 1962) , which is in a highly artificial style. 

The whole corpus of scaldic poetry was published by Finnur, Jonsson Den norsk-islandske 
Skjaldedigtning (4 vols 1908-15). Many will prefer the readings ofE. A. Kock, Den mrsk-isldnd- 
ska Skaldedigtningen (I— II, 1946-50). 

L. M. Hollander ( The Skalds, 1945) described scaldic poetry and translated some of it into 

Histories and Sagas 

These are studied in the works of Finnur Jonsson and J. de Vries mentioned under Old Norse 
Poetry above. Other valuable works include those of W. P. Ker ( The Dark Ages, 1 904 and 
subsequently, E), and of H. Koht ( The Old Norse Sagas 1931, E). K. Liestal, The Origin of 
the Icelandic Family Sagas (1930, E) is splendidly compiled but one-sided. Einar Ol. Sveinsson, 
The Age of the Sturlungs (1953, E) is an enjoyable description of the age in which most of the 
historical literature was written. An excellent survey, although rather too short, is that of 
Sigur8ur Nordal, Sagalitteraturen in Nordisk Kultur (VIII, B, 1952 D). See also Stefdn 
Einarsson, A History of Icelandic Literature (1957, E) ; G. Turville-Petre, Origins of Icelandic 
Literature (1953, E). 

Snorri Sturluson 

Sigur6ur Nordal ( Snorri Sturluson, 1920, 7) deals lucidly with Snorri’s life, ambitions and 
literary achievements. Very sceptical views on the value of Snorri’s mythological work were 
expressed by E. Mogk in several works, including Lokis Anteil an Baldrs Tode (1925, G) and 
Zur Bewertung der Snorra Edda als religionsgeschicktliche und mythologiscke Quelle (1932, G). W. 
Baetke’s Die Gotterlehre der Snorra Edda ( 1 950, G) is clear and well reasoned. 

Snorri’s Edda has been edited many times. A convenient critical edition is that of Finnur 
Jonsson, Edda Snorra Sturlusonar (1931 D ). 

The best edition of the Heimskringla is that of Bjarni AQalbjarnarson, Heimskringla (I-III, 
1941—51), which includes a full commentary in Icelandic. 

A good translation of Snorri’s Edda is that of A. G. Brodeur, The Prose Edda (1920 and sub- 
sequently) . An incomplete translation is that of J. I. Young, The Prose Edda (1954). The latter 
contains a short introduction by S. Nordal. 

The Heimskringla was translated into strange English by William Morris and Eirikr Mag- 
nusson, Stories of the Kings of Norway (I-IV, 1893-1905). The series includes excellent notes 
and introductory material. 



A. Olrik, Kildeme til Sakses Oldhistorie (I-II, 1892-4,7)) remains a standard work. The same 
author’s Danmarks Heltedigtning (I-II, 1903-10, D) was translated into English and revised by 
L. M. Hollander, as The Heroic Legends of Denmark (1919). Useful commentary was supplied by 
P. Herrmann {Die Heldensagen des Saxo Grammaticus 1922, G). 

Good texts were published by A. Holder (1886) and byj. Olrik and H. Rader (1931). 
Translation: The First nine books of the Danish History of Saxo Grammaticus, translated by 
O. Elton (1894). 


General: H. M. Chadwick {The Cult of Othin, 1899, E) provides a readable, factual intro- 
duction; G. Dumhzil {Mitra-Varuna, 1948, F) studies Gdinn against the background of Indo- 
European myth. See also J. de Vries, Contributions to the Study of Othinn (1931, E) ; W. von 
Unwerth, Untersuchmgen iiber Totenkultund Qdinnverehrung bei Nordgermanen und Lappen (1911, G) ; 
O. Hofler, Kultische Geheimbiinde der Germanen (I, 1934, G, stimulating) ; G. Turville-Petre, 
Urn Odinsdyrkun a Islandi {Studia Islandica 17, 1958, 1 ). 

68inn was studied as god of poetry and the sacred mead by A. Olrik, Skjaldemjeden (in 
Edda XXIV, 1926, 236 ff, Z)), Olrik quoted parallels from many other lands. A. G. van 
Hamel {The Mastering of the Mead in Studier till. E. A. Kock, 1934, E) analysed the Norse 
sources of the myth ; J. de Vries {Die Skaldenkenningen met mythologischen Inhoud, 1943, 5 ff, Du) 
assembled poetic allusions to this myth. 

The hanging Odinn has been the subject of many works. A. G. van Hamel ( 6 d inn hanging 
on the Tree in ActaPhilologicaScandinavica, VII, 1932, 260 ff, E) offered an animistic explanation, 
comparing Irish parallels. S. Bugge ( Studier over de nordiske Gude- og Heltesagns Oprindelse, 
1881-9, N) emphasized Christian influences; and R. Pipping {Oden i Gaigen in Studier i nordisk 
Filologi, XVIII, 2, 1928, r ff, S) compared the practices of shamans. F. Strom {Den Doendes 
Makt och Odin i Tradet, 1947, S), in an illuminating work, sees the god acquiring wisdom from 
the world of death. 

Outstanding works on Valholl are those of G. Neckel ( Walhall , 1931, G), and of M. Olsen 
( Valhall med de mange dorer in Norrone Studier, 1938, N). Olsen considers the possibility of 
Roman influences on the Norse concept. 

Gdinn’s relations with the horse were discussed thoroughly by H. Gjessing ( Hesten ifer- 
historisk kunst og kultus in Viking, VII, 1943, 51 ff, jV). Oh his ravens see A. H. Krappe, Etudes 
de Mythologie et de Folklore germaniques ( 1 928, 29 ff, F) . 

Winn’s names were collected and explained by Hj. Falk ( Odensheite , 1924, N). 


In Tor (1, 1947, S, not complete) H. Ljungberg assembled the Norse material and compared 
Th6r with other Indo-European gods. He also reviewed the opinions of many former scholars. 

Among outstanding papers on Th6r may be mentioned those of F. R. Schroder, Th 6 r, 
Indra, Herakles {Zeitschriftfilr deutsche Philologie, LXXVI, 1957, 1 ff, G) and Das Hymirlied ( Arkiv 
for nordisk Filologi LXX, 1935, x ff, G). The intricate Porsdrdpa was discussed in close detail by 
V. Kiil in Arkiv for nordisk Filologi (LXXI, 1958,89 ff N) . The miniature ‘Thbr’s hammers’ 
were listed and partially described by R. Skovmand in Adrboger for nordisk Oldkyndighed og 
Historie (1942, 63 ff D). 

Evidence of the cult of Thor in England was given by R. Jente, Die mythologischen Ausdrilcke 
im altenglischen Wortschatz (1921, 81 ff G), by E. A. Philippson, Germanisches Heidentum bei den 
Angelsachsen (1929, 136 ff G), by F. M. Stenton, Transactions of the. Royal Historical Society, 



(Ser. IV, XXIII, 1941, 244 ff E) and by G. Turville-Petre, Thurstable in English and Medieval 
Studies Presented to J.R.R. Tolkien, 1 962, 241 ff (E) . . . . . 

Although much criticized by scholars in other disciplines, the tripartite division ot Norse 
and other Indo-European gods proposed by G. Dumezil (see pp. 1 03 ff above) has won con- 
siderable approval among Germanic specialists ; see J. de Vries, Forschungsgeschichte der Mylholo- 
gie (1961,357 ff G) ; H. Ringgren and A. V. Strom (Religionerna,e d. 2, 1959,1 75 ffi 1 ). Thor s 
place in this system is explained by Dumezil in numerous works, most clearly in the iollow- 
ing : Uideologie tripartiedes Indo-Europiens ( 1 958, 54 ff) ;Les Dieux des Germains (ed. 2, 1 958, 106 ff) ; 
(Aspects de la Fonction Guerriere chez Us Indo-Europeens (1956,69 ff.) Dumezil meets some of his 
critics in Revue de VHistoire des Religions (CLII, 1957, 8 ff F). 


The figure of Baldr has been judged variously. As the passive, suffering god, some have com- 
pared him with Christ and seen influences of Christian legend in the myths about him (S. 
Bugge, Studier over de nordiske Gude- og Heltesagns Oprindelse, 1881-1889, 32 ff, JV; M. Olsen; 
Arkivfor nordisk Filologi, XL, 1924, 148 ff, JV). G. Neckel (Die Uberlkferungen vomGotte Balder, 
1920, G) on the other hand, compared Baldr especially with near-eastern gods of the type 
Attis, Adonis, and believed that Baldr was of near-eastern origin. In this case Baldr would be 
a god of fertility like Freyr. J. de Vries ( Arkivfor nordisk Filologi, LXX, 1955, 41 ff, G) regarded 
the slaughter of Baldr as a form of initiation ritual. 

The place of Baldr in the Merseburg Charm and continental tradition was discussed most 
ably by F. R. Schroder, Balder und der zweite Merseburger Spruch ( Germanisch-Romanische Monat- 
schrift, XXXIV, 1953, 161 ff G). 


More ink has been spilt on Loki than on any other figure in Norse myth. This, m itself, is 
enough to show how little scholars agree, and how far we are from understanding him. 

A. Olrik published a number of works, of which the most illuminating was Myterne om Loke 
(in Festskrift til H. F. Feilberg, 1911, D), Olrik analysed the different traits in Loki’s charac- 
ter, and explained them partly in the light of Estonian and Finnish folklore, which be seemed 
to rate as high as the oldest Norse poetry. He traced many elements in the Loki myth to near 
eastern or Caucasian influences, transmitted to Scandinavia by the Goths. 

H. Celander (Lakes mytiska ursprung, 1911, 5 ) was interested largely m modern Swedish 
folklore. He drew attention to the Swedish dialect word locke, meaning ‘spider’, and saw Loki 
essentially as a dwarf or gnome. Recently A. B. Rooth (Loki in Scandinavian Mythology, 1961, E) 
lias followed a similar line, but her methods are different. By a process of elimination she 
attempts to find the ‘authentic’ Loki figure. Motives which are also found outside Scandinavia 
are said to be borrowed. Much is ascribed to Irish influences, even though some of the Irish 
stories quoted, such as the Tain Bo Fraich, are quite unlike the Norse stories of Loki. The 
fundamental Scandinavian Loki appears to be a spider (locke). 

In The Problem of Loki (1933, E), J. de Vries gave prime importance to the Old Norse 
sources, considering their age and reliability. He saw Loki as a ‘trickster’. A. Holtsmark (Arkiv 
for nordisk Filologi, LXI V, 1 949, 1 ff, JV) compared him with the fool m medieval drama 
F. Strom (Loki, 1956, G) again studied Loki primarily from ancient literature, and found 
him an hypostatis of Odinn, his foster-brother. This view has been much criticized, but can- 
not be lightly rejected. 0 ~ , 

Entirely different methods were employed by G. Dumezil (Loh, ed. 1, 1948, b ; ed. 2, con- 
siderably altered, 1959, G) who compared the myth of Loki with the Caucasian legend oi 



Syrdon. Dumezil, as he showed in another work ( Les Dieux des Germains, 1959, 98, 103-4, F)> 
saw the Caucasian legend and the Norse myth as relics of Indo-European culture. 

A careful survey of recent studies of Loki has been published by A. Holtsmark (Mai og 
Minne, 1962, 81 ff, JV). 


The most thorough study of Heimdall is that of H. Pipping ( Eddastudier I— II in Studier i nordisk . 
Filologi, XVI-XVII, 1 925-6, S). The sources were carefully surveyed by B. Pering (Heimdall, 
1941, G); the conclusions there drawn cannot be accepted. A. Ohlmarks, in a very learned 
and detailed study (Heimdall und das Horn, 1937) favours a naturalistic interpretation of the 
myth, seeing Heimdall as the sun and his horn as the moon. A particularly useful paper was 
that of I. Lindquist (in Vetenskaps-Societeten i Lund, Arsbok, 1937, 55 ff, S) . J. de Vries published 
a carefully balanced survey in Eludes Germaniques (1955, 257 ff, F). 


As well as in general works mentioned above, G. Dumezil has studied the Vanir, gods of 
his third estate, in Tarpeia (1947, F), where he analyses the story of the war of the Vanir as it 
is told in the obscure lines of the Vgluspd. He deals extensively with the myth of Njord and 
his giantess bride in La Saga de Hadingus (1953, E). 

Two works by F. R. Schroder (Ingunar-Freyr, 1941 and Skadi und die Cotter Skandinaviens, 
1941, G) are stimulating, if somewhat adventurous for the beginner. 

An important work touching on Freyr as god of the cornfield was that of A. Holtsmark 
( Vitazgjafi in Maal og Minne, 1933,120 ff, N). 

H. Rosin gathered material about Freyr and his sacred animals, the boar, horse, ox and 
perhaps dog in Freykult och Djurkult (in Fornvdnnen, VIII, 1913, 2x3 ff, S). This remains a 
standard work. The cult of the horse has been further studied by A. Liestel ( Maal og Minne, 
XXXVIII, 1945, 59-66, jV) and by K. Liestol (Arv, II, 1946, 94 ff, N). 

The Skirnismdl and the myth told in it have been widely discussed. M. Olsen’s explanation 
of this myth as a seasonal, fertility one (Maal og Minne, 1909, 17 ff, N) has been widely 
accepted. J. Sahlgren (Eddica et Scaldica, 1927-8, 21 1 ff, S) explained the myth in entirely 
different and more mardal terms. An important contribution to the study of the Skirnismdl 
has lately been made by Ursula Dronke in English and Medieval Studies presented to J. R. R. 
Tolkien (1962, 250 ff, E). 

A well-balanced survey of the Vanir, their significance and origins, is that of Olafur Briem, 
Sludia Islandica (XXI, 1963,/). 


Tyr and UI 1 have been studied in relation to figures in other Indo-European myth by 
G. Dumdzil ( Mitra-Varuna , 1948, F). Whether accepted or not, Dum6zil’s views are there 
presented with admirable clarity. On Ull see also P. Herrmann, Die Heldensagen des Saxo 
Grammaticus (1922, 24 1 ff, G). Theories about the etymology of Ull ’s name were discussed by 
F. R. Schroder, Skadi und die Gotter Skandinaviens (1941, 74 ff, G). 

Evidence from place-names commemorating Ull has been collected and sifted by several 



scholars, including M. Olsen ( Hedenske Kullminder i norske Stedsnaone, I, i9i5>esp.goff, JV) and 
E. Wesson (Studier till Sveriges hedna mytohgi och fomhistoria, i 924, esp. 129 11 , 5 ). 

M. Olsen wrote on place-names containing the element Tfr in Norrene Studier (ig38, 80 ff 
JV, reprinted from an article published in 1905). Many of these place-names are also cited 
by A. OIrik and H. Ellekilde in JVordens Gudeverden (I, 1926-51, passim D). 

S. Nordal (Islenzk Meaning, I, 1942, 235 ff, I) discussed Bragi as god of poetry, as did E. 
Mogk ( Beitrage zur Geschichte der deutschen Sprache und Literatur, XII, 1887, 383 ff, G). 

On the myth of Idunn see A. Holtsmark, Arkiv for nordisk Filologi (LXIV, 1949, 28 ff JV). 
Gefjun and her plough were discussed by the same scholar in Maalog Minns (1944, 169 ff, JV), 
and further by F. R. Schroder in Arkiv far nordisk Filologi (LXVII, 1952, 1 ff, G) ; see also 
OIrik and Ellekilde, op. cit. II, 713 ff, D). 

On Frigg see especially H. jungner, JVamn och Bygd XII, 1 924, 1 ff, 5 . 



Much has been written about the divine kingship in Scandinavia in recent years. The most 
ambitious work was that of O. Hofler ( Germanisches Sakralkonigtum, I, 1952, G). This is sug- 
gestive but not reliable. Valuable observations were made by A. Holtsmark in her review of 
Hofler (Maal og Minne, 1953, 142 ff, JV). Hofler’s book was also reviewed at length by J. de 
Vries (Germanisch-Romanische Monatschrifl, XXXIV, 1953, 183 ff, G). Hofler later gave an out- 
line of his views on divine kingship in La Regalita Sacra ( The Sacral Kingship, 1959, 664 ff, G). 
The same volume contains a paper by A. V. Strom, The King God and his Connection with 
Sacrifice (702 ff, E). 

O. von Friesen (Saga och Sed, 1932-4, 15 ff, S) discussed the etymology of the word konungr 
(king), and believed it to be related to kona (woman). The king could thus be seen as the mate 
of the fertility god in a matriarchal system. This theory has won few adherents and was criti- 
cized by J. de Vries ( Sreculum , VII, 1956, 289 ff, G) in a valuable contribution. 



The heroic legends have been described by many scholars. The fullest treatment is that of 
H. Schneider ( Germanische Heldensage, I— II, 1,2, 1 928-34, G) . The first volume of this work has 
lately been reprinted (1962) with some additions and a bibliography by R. Wisniewski, 
brought up to date. 

A. OIrik, Kilderne til Sakses Oldhistorie (I— II, 1892-4, D) is a fundamental study of the legends 
preserved by Saxo Grammaticus. The same author’s Danmarks Heltedigtning (I — II, 1903-10, D) 
was translated with some revision into English by L. M. Hollander as The Heroic Legends of 

Denmark (1919). 

The legends of Ermanaric were conveniently assembled by C. Brady ( The Legends of Erman- 
aric, 1943, E) and carefully analysed by G. Zink (Les Ugendes heroiques de Dietrich et d’Ermrich, 

1950, F). 

Among notable works touching particularly on SigurS may be mentioned that of J. de 
Vries, Betrachtungen zurn Marchen (1954, G). In Siegfried Arminius und die Symbolik (1961, G), 
O. Hofler saw the Cheruscan hero, Arminius, as the prototype of Sigur 5 , as had others before 

him. G. Schiitte (Sigfrid und Brunhild, 1935, G) found the basis for the legends of Sigurd and 
the Niflungar chiefly in the history of the Merovingian Franks. Schulte’s extreme views are 

not adopted in this book. 

Starkad was discussed in the general works mentioned above. A useful contribution was 
that of G. Dumteil (Aspects de la Fonction Guerriere, 1956, F), who saw Starkadas a Thor hero. 
J. de Vries ( Germanisch-Romanische Monatschrifl, XXXVI, 1955, 28 ff, G) draws Starkad closer 
to Odinn, as I have done in this chapter. 



An important work on Hadding and his place in religious history is that of G. Dumdzil, 
La Saga de Hadingus (1953, F). 


An important study of the disir in a wide European context was that of K. F. Johansson, 
Uber die allindische Disana und verwandtes (1918, G). H. Gelander (in Saga och Sed, 1943, 71 ff, S) 
assembled traditions from early literature and modern sources about disir and suchlike beings. 

D. Stromback, Tidrande och Diserna (1949, S) is a perceptive examination of the story of 
Thidrandi whom the disir killed. Stromback strongly emphasized the Christian elements in 
this story (cf my review in Saga-Book of the Viking Society, XIV, 1953— 5, 137 ff, E). The motives 
of the disir in slaying Thidrandi were studied from a more pagan point of view by F. Strom 
(Arv, VIII, 1952,77 ff, S). The same scholar further developed his views on the disir in Diser, 
Nomor, Valkyr jor (1954, .S). 

Th cfylgjur and hamingjur have also been discussed widely. M. Rieger, Uber den nordischen 
Fylgjenglauben (Zeitsckrift fur deutsches Altertum, XLII, 1898, 277 ff, G) is still useful. The con- 
ception is also explained lucidly by D. Stromback (Sejd, 1935, 152 ff, 5 ). Other works include 
that ofP. G. M. Sluijter ( Ijslands Volksgeloof, 1936, 84 ff, Du) and my short paper in Saga-Book 
of the Viking Society, XII, 1940, 1 19 ff, E). 

The dlfar and their sacrifice were discussed especially by J. de Vries (Acta Philologica Scandi- 
navica, VII, 1932-3, 169 ff, G) and by H. Ellekilde in the same journal (VIII, 1933-4, *8® 

ff ,D). 



In Farms and Fanes of Ancient Norway (1928, E), M. Olsen studied the distribution of temples in 
early Norway, explaining their organization, significance and the terms applied to them. The 
same scholar summarized many of his earlier findings in Nordisk Kuliur XXVI ( Religionshistorie , 
ed. N. Lid, 1 942, 59 ff ) . Both of these works provide serviceable introductions. 

The conceptions underlying such words as helgi ( helga ), ve ( vigja ) were analysed from a 
philosophical and philological point of view by W. Baetke (Das Heilige in Germanischen, I 94 2 )- 
This is a brilliant, if rather difficult book. 

In Hednatemplet i Uppsala (Fornvdnnen, XVIII, 1923, 85 ff, S) S. Lindquist examined many 
details in Adam of Bremen’s description of the temple at Uppsala and in the notes appended 
to it. Another important study of the Uppsala temple and grove around it, in a wider setting 
was that of Th. Palm, Uppsalalunden och Uppsalatemplet (in Arsbok Vetenskaps. Soc. i Lund, 
1941, 79 ff, S). 

The remains of the supposed temple at Hofstadir in northern Iceland were described by 
D. Bruun and Finnur Jonsson (Aarbager for nordisk Oldkyndighed og Historic, 1909, 245 ff, D) 
and briefly by D. Bruun, Fortidsminder og Nutidshjem paa Island (1928, 33 ff, D). Aa. Roussell 
(in Forntida Gdrdar i Island, ed. M. Stenberger, 1943, 215 ff, D) considered such remains 
found in Iceland. He was perhaps unwarrantably sceptical about some of them. 


The forms and meaning of sacrifice have been studied by many. J. de Vries’s chapter in his 
Altgermanische Religionsgeschichte (ed. 2, 1 , 1956, 406 ff, G) is detailed and thorough. An interest- 




ing, if slighter Introduction was provided by V. Gronbech in The Culture of the Teutons (transl. 
into English by W. Worster, II, 1931,201 ff). Among recent studies should be mentioned that 
of F. Strom, Tro och Blot (in Arv, 1951, 23 ff, S). A. G. van Hamel ( Ijslands Odinsgeloof, 1936, 
Du), sees sacrifice chiefly as a form of magic. 

A useful survey of human sacrifice among Scandinavians and other Germanic peoples is 
that of E. Mogk, Die Menschenopfer der Germanen (Abhandlungen der k. sacks. Gesellsckafl der 
Wissenschaften, XXVII, 1 909, G) . 

The question how far the death-penalty originated in human sacrifice has been much dis- 
cussed in recent years. F. Strom (On the Sacral Origin of the Germanic Death Penalties, 1942, E) 
denied that there was any connexion between the sacrifice and the penalties. This book 
covers an immense amount of material and includes a thorough bibliography. The same 
scholar made further observations in a paper published in Saga och Sed (i952,5ff,.S l ).D. Strom- 
back ( Saga och Sed, 1942,51 ff, 5 ) criticized Strom’s views, citing a number of texts which sug- 
gested that the purpose of the death penalty was to appease the gods. This implies that the 
law was in itself divine. 

The strange tale of Volsi (see pp. 256 ff above) has attracted much attention. Older 
critical studies are those of A. Heusler (Zeitschrif des Vereins fur Volkskunde, XIII, 1903, 24 ff, G ) 
and of W. von Unwerth (Worter und Sachen, II, 1910, 161 ff, G). F. Strom also studied details 
in this tale in Diser, Nornor , Valkyr jor (1954, 22 ff, S). 


A great many stories of godless men were collected by K. Maurer (Die Bekehrung des nor - 
wegischen Stammes gum Christenthume II, 1855, 247 ff, G ). In OSinn Hanging on the Tree (Acta 
Philologica Scandinavica, VII, 1932, 260 ff, E) A. G. van Hamel suggests that those who believed 
only in their might (d matt sinn ok rnegin) had reverted to a pretheistic form of belief in magic. 
This accords with van Hamel’s view that ‘the gods were not a necessary element of ancient 
Germanic belief and where they are worshipped, they form the superstructure, not the 
foundation of the religious system’ (Saga-Book of the Viking Society, XI, 1 928-36, 1 42 ff ) . Views 
like these would find few adherents today. 

F. Strom (Den egna kraftens man , 1948, 141 ff, S) studied the godless men against their social 
background. He also analysed the meanings of terms such as mdttr, rnegin and others in the 
light of contexts in which they occur. H. Ljungberg (Den nordiska religionen och kristendomen, 
1938, S) devoted a section to the godless men. 


W. von Unwerth ( Untersuchungen tiber Totenkult und Odinnverehrung bei Nordgermanen und happen 
1911, G) critically examined many of the Old Norse sources and considered the particular 
relations of the dead with Odinn. He compared similar beliefs recorded among Lapps of 
later times. G. Neckel, Walhall (1931, G) is a sound and thorough study. A rather striking 
work was that of H. J. Klare ( Die Toten in der altnordischen Literatur in Acta Philologica Scandi- 
navica, VIII, 1933-4, G). Klare’s conclusions were slightly extreme because he saw the dead 
as little more than ‘living corpses’. Although this conception was widespread, it seems that 
there were others as well. H. R. Ellis (The Road to Hel, 1943, E) is sadly unreliable. R. Th. 
Christiansen (The Dead and the Living, 1946, E) worked partly from the later traditions of 
Scandinavia and attempted to distinguish pagan survivals from beliefs arising under later 
influences, Christian and European. S. Lindquist (Fornvdnnen, 1920,56 ff, 5 ), who is primarily 
an archaeologist, used his great knowledge of graves and grave-goods to throw light on the 
descriptions in Old Norse literary sources. The works of many other archaeologists are of 


great value for the study of Norse conceptions of death. These are loo numerous to be cited 
here, but among the most valuable is Osebergfunnet (I-IV, 1917-28, N) by A. W. Brogger and 
other scholars. K. Eldjirn (Kuml og Haugfi, 1956, I) thoroughly examined the graves and 
grave-goods of ancient Iceland, thus demonstrating pagan conceptions of death in that 



Although much criticized in recent years, the most thorough study of all the incidents in the 
Ragnarok is that of A. Olrik. This was first published (in Danish) in two parts (in Aarbeger for 
nordisk Oldkyndighed og Historic, 1902, and in Danske Studier, 1913, D), and appeared later, with 
some revision, in the German translation of W. Ranisch (Ragnarok, 1922). Olrik compared 
numerous parallels, especially from Ireland, Persia and the Caucasus, and in Christian 
legends of the end of the world. He inclined to think that eastern beliefs had influenced the 
Norsemen during the Migration and Viking Ages, and that other foreign elements had been 
introduced at later times. The Norse Ragnarok would thus be a conglomeration of various 
elements of different origins and ages. R. Reitsenstein (in Kyrkohistorisk Arsskrift, 1924, i2off, G) 
concentrated on Persian parallels and traced the Norse conceptions of the Ragnarok largely 
to Manichaean missionaries. At the present time, many would see inherited Indo-European 
tradition rather than a mosaic in the Ragnarok, although it is difficult to avoid the suspicion 
that Christian eschatology exerted some influence. 

S. Nordal’s edition of the Vqluspa (1923 and subsequently, I) is particularly important for 
the study of the Ragnarok. 



Absalon, Bishop of Roskilde and Arch- 
bishop of Lund, 27-8 
Adam of Bremen, 7, 32, 49, 52, 73, 93, 
101, 244-7, 251, 253, 261 
Aids, 219-20, 261 
Alfheimr (Elf-world), 231 
Alfhild (of Alfheimar), 205, 208, 239 
Alfr (King of Alfheimar), 231, 239 
Ali inn frcekni (also called Armddr), 207, 

Althingi (Alpingi), 254, 260 
Alviss (dwarf), 234-5 
Alvissm&l (Words of All-wise), 159, 234 
Ammianus Marcellinus, 197 
Annals of St Neots, 59 
Andvari (dwarf), 138 
Angant^r, King of Goths, 51 
AngrboSa (Distress-bringer), 60, 129, 
133, 180 
Ansis, 190 
Anskar, St, 7, 195 

Ari Thorgilsson, the Wise, 17, 26, 163 
Arnhall Thorvaldsson (Icelandic poet), 

Arminius, 102, 199-200, 204-5 
Arngrfmur J 6nsson (Icelandic historian) 
31, 170, 209, 2x7 

ArnoldusTylensis, see Arnhall Thorvalds 

Asaland (Asaheimr), 156 
AsgarS, 23, 36, 38, 63, 76-8, 81, 89-90 
94, 107, 1 12, 127, 134, 136, 138, 141 
158-9, 164, 176, 276, 280 
Askr (Ash-tree), 55, 276-7 
Atlakvida, 182-3 
Atlamdl , 226 

Atli (Att'ila), 182, 197, 210, 224 

A 5 ils, King, 114, 226, 264 

Aurgelmir (giant), 275-6 

Aun the Old, King, 47 

AurboQa (or Qrboda), 177 

Austri (dwarf), 39, 234 

AuSumbla (or Audumla), 55, 275, 277 

iEgir, 10, ixi, 130, 152 
jElfric (homilist), 95 
iEsir, 23-4, 34, 40, 47, 55, 65, 106-9, 136, 
142, 156-64, 173, 175, 177, 186-7, 190 
yEthelweard (English chronicler), 70, 12 1 
AEttemisstapi (Family cliff), 254 

Baldr, 10, 1 5, 24, 32-3, 44, 55, 63-4, 70, 
82, 90, 106-22, 124-6, 130, 132-4, 
138-40, 144, 146, 154, 164, 168, 184, 
188-9, 202 , 204, 215, 238, 248, 280-2 
Baldrs Draumar (Dreams of Baldr), 45, 
109-11, 1 13-14, 1 19, 132, 140 
Balor, 160 

Baugi (giant), 36, 39, 51 
Bzeldaeg Wodening (Baddasg son of 
Woden), 70, 121-2 

Bee mac Buain of the Tuatha D6 
Danann, 40-1 

Bede (the Venerable), 70, 227, 237, 262 
Beowulf, 26, 31, 64, 68, 1 20-1, 170, 200, 
2io, 231, 262 

Bestla, 38, 49, 55, 209, 275, 278 
Bifrgst ( Bilfrgst ), 147, 154 
Bilskirnir, 75 
, Bjarnar Saga Hitdcelakappa, 18 
Bjarkamal, 30-1 

Bjarni Kolbeinsson, Bishop, 46 
Bjorn Halldorsson (Icelandic lexico- 
grapher), 153, 158 
, Bjorn Hitdcelakappi, 225 
, BloSughdfi (Bloody-hoofed), 124-5, x ?3 
Bolthor (Bolthorn, Bglpdrr), 49, 55, 64, 
209, 275, 278 

Bolverk {Bglverkr, Evil-doer), 36, 50, 52, 

Bor, 275 

Bostock, J. K., 122 
Bous, 33, 1 13-14 

Bragi Boddason, the Old, 15, 43 , 75-7, 
81, 180, 185-6, 197-8 
Brandkrossa Pattr , 255-6 
Bravallapula, 29-30 




Bravellir, 212 
Breidablik, 106, 108, 116 
Bress (Irish King), 160-1 
Bricriu of the Evil Tongue, 145 
Brfsing (belt or necklace, Brisinga men), 
127, 129, 133, 14°, *47, 1 59 3 r 76 
Brjans Saga, 60 

Brun (Bruni, i.e. Odinn), 212-3 

Brunehilda, 199 

Bugge, S., 42, 1 19, 21 1 

Bur (Bor), 55, 277 

Buri (Buri), 55 

Brynhild, 198 

Ceesarius of Arles, 233 
Cet (Irish hero), 152 
Chadwick, H. M., 20 1 
Chadwick, Mrs., 97 
Charles the Great, 54 
Cherusci, 199, 205 
Cimbri, 252 

Codex Regius of the Elder Edda, 1 1-12, 

97, 1303 *39 
Coifi, 237, 262 

Coill Tomair (Grove of Thor), 94, 102 
Columba, St, 88 

Conall the Victorious (Irish hero), 152-3 
Gonchobar, King, 152 
Conganchnes (Horny-skin), 204 
Conle (Connla), 187 

Dag, 47, 73-4 
Damn (dwarf), 235 
Dainsleif (sword), 234 
Danpr, 150 
Danr, 150 

Dian Cecht (Irish hero), 123 
Dickins, B., 119 
Diermes (or Tiermes), 98 
disabldt (sacrifice of the disir), 225, 227, 
23 G 239 

disir, 221-8, 231, 240, 253, 257, 263 
dekkdifar, 231 

Domaldi, King, 46, 191, 253 
Draumkvtsde , 154 
Draupnir (arm-ring), 107, 137 
Dream of the Rood, 1 1 9 
Droplaugaugarsona Saga, 18 
DrSttkvatt (Court-measure), 14, 85 
Dudo of St Quentin, 94 

Dumdzil, G., 24, 40, 209, 252, 254 
Dvalinn (dwarf), 39, 235 
dvergar (dwarfs), 230, 233-4 
Dyggvi, King, 226 

Earth-spirits, 230 ff. 

Edda (Poetic) 8-9, u, 13-14, 20-1, 32, 
54, 76, 238-9. See also under in- 
dividual lays. 

Edda (Prose, Snorri’s Edda), 22-6, 30-1, 
81, 1 19, 121, 129, 150, 187, 191, 197, 

Egill Skalla-Grimsson, 15, 37-8, 43, 58, 
69, 162, 232, 263 
Egils Saga, 25, 232, 238 
Eilif Godrunarson (poet), 15, 78-9, 81, 

85, 128, 134 

Einar Skalaglamm (poet), 15-16, 39-40, 
1691 *93, 212, 258 
Eir (goddess), 189 

Eirik (a king of the Swedes), 195, 244 
Eikik Bloodaxe, 14-15, 31, 52, 67-8, in, 

1 15, 162, 193, 213, 232, 261, 282 
Eiriksmal (Lay of Eirik Bloodaxe), 14, 
53-4, 184 _ 

Eirik the Victorious, King, 47, x 18, 258 
Ella (King of Northumbria), 255 
Elves (alfar), 230 ff. 

Embla, 55, 276-7 
Encomium Emmae Reginae, 59 
Erce, eorpan modor (Erce, mother of 
earth), 188 

Ermanaric, 9, 20, 197-8 
Erminaz, 191 
Exeter Book, 78 

Eyrbyggja Saga, 18-19, 47, 87, 220, 240-3, 
246, 251, 254 

Eysteinn, Archbishop of Nidardss, 18 

Eysteinn Beli, King, 256 

Eyvind the Plagiarist (poet), 12, 14-15, 

44, 56, 144, l66 > i8 5 , i 93» 282 

Fafnir (dragon), 200, 202, 234 
Fagrskinna, 67, 259 

Farbauti (giant), 55, 127, 129, 133, 141, 
144, 147 

Faxi (the maned one), 249 
Fenrir (wolf), 60, 64, 127, 133, 160, J 8o, 

Fensalir, 189 

Finn (Irish hero), 40-1, 76, 203-4 

Finnbogi the Strong, 265 

Fir Bolg, 160 

Fitela (Sinfjotli), 201 

Fjalar (dwarf), 36-8 

Fjolnir, 62, 191, 216 

Fjqlsvinnsmal, 132, 136 

Fjorgyn (Jord), 97, 189 

Fjorgynn (god), 97, 189 

FjQturluhdr (Fetter-grove), 74 

Flateyjarbdk, 67, 82, 129, 140, 2x7, 256 

F16ki, 60, 249, 258 

Flosi, 1 31 

Folkvangr (home of Freyja), 177 
Fomorians, 160-1 
Fomaldar Sogur, 20, 53 
Forseti, 106, 238 

‘Fragmentary History of Ancient Kings,’ 

Frazer, J. G., 50 
Freki (wolf), 54, 60, 258 
Freyfaxi, 167, 254 

Freyja, 3, 10-u, 40, 46, 55, 65-6, 77, 81, 
120, 130, 134-6, I4G I5 6 > t 59» 162, 
168, 170, x 72, 175-9, i8 3> i 8 7-9, 217, 
225-6, 239, 280 

Freyr, 1&-19, 26, 33, 52, 55-6, 62, 65-6, 
69-70, 82, 86, 90, 93, 95-6, 100, 107, 
109, ii 7, 124-5, !37, *52, 156, 159 , 
162-3, *65-70, 172-8, 183-4, i 8 7> 
I9G 193, 212, 214, 216-19, 224, 226, 
231, 234, 237, 246-9, 251-6, 258-9, 
261, 281, 284 
Freysfaxi, 167 

Freysgodi (Freyr’s priest), 65, 166, 172, 

Freysgydlingar, 166, 172, 261 
Fricco, see Freyr 
Fricg (Frycg), see Frigg 
Frigg, 33, 53, 55, 6 3 , 67, 72-3, 106-9, 
hi, 1 18, 124, 130, 134, 180, 184, 
188-9, 209 
Frija, see Frigg 
fridgeard (or fri&splott), 236-8 
Fridpjofs Saga, 1 16 

Freblod or Froblot (Freyr’s sacrifice), 173 

214, 217 

Frddi (the name of several kings of the 
Danes), 166, 169-70, 172-3, 209 
Frdda fridr (Peace of Frddi), 169 

Fulla (Fyllr,.Fylla), 124 

fylgja (pi -fylgjur), 221, 223-4, 227-30 

Galar (dwarf), 36, 38 

Gangleri, 61-2 

Gapt, 190 

Garm, 181, 280 

Gauka-Thorir, 265-6 

Gautr (Geat, Geata), 62, 70, 190-1 

Gautreks Saga, 44, 46, 205-8, 254 

Gefjun, 15, 178, 180, 187-8 

Gefn, see Freyja 

Geirrod ( Geirmdr ), 15, 31-2, 76, 78-81, 
85, 9 8 , *28, 134, 224 
Geirstadaalfr (Elf of Geirstadir), 193, 231 
Geri (wolf), 54, 60, 258 
Gersemi (daughter of Freyja), 159, 176 
Gerd (Freyr’s wife), 165, 170, 174, 177, 
187, 216, 247 
Gilling (giant), 36, 39 
Gimld, 281 
Ginnungagap, 275 
Gisla Saga, 166, 224, 271 
Gisli Sursson, 1 7, 38, 57 
Gizur Grytingalidi, 51, 53 
Gizur Gullbrarskald, 16, 258 
Gizur Hallson, 28 

Gjallarhom (the ringing horn), 149, 154 

Gjdlp (Gjglp), 85 

Gjoll (river), 107, 215 

Gjuki (Gibica), 197, 199, 209 

Glasir (tree), 246 

Gladsheimr (World of Joy), 54 

Glum (Viga-Glumr), 69-70, 165-6, 230, 


Godan, see Wotan 
Gonda, J., 104 
go5i (pi. godar), 260, 263 
Grettir Asmundarson, 16, 148, 15 1 
Grim Kamban, 195 
Grimm, J., 4, 54, 103, 143 
Grimismdl (Words of Grimnir, Odinn), 
10, 13, 52, 54, 56, 58, 61, 63-4, 108, 
125, 148, 173, 177, 182, 185, 231-4, 

Griplur, 218-19 
Grid (giantess), 79, 85 
Grda (witch), 78 
Grottasgngr, 169 
Grutte Grey-beard, 154 




Gulajung (Law of), 260 
Guliinbtirsti (Golden-bristled), 107, 168 
Gullinkambi (Golden-combed), 215 
Gullintanni (Golden- toothed), 151 
Gullveig, 158-9, 280 
Gundestrup Bowl, 252 
Gundicarius (Gunnar), 197 
Gungnir (spear), 43, 137, 233 
Gunnar (legendary hero), 197, 202, 224 
Gunnar Helming, 169-70, 21 1, 247 
Gunnar of Hlidarendi, 120, 229 
Gunnar s Pattr, 172 
Gunnhild (Queen), 52, 213, 232 
Gunnlaug Leifsson, 90, 223 
Gunnlod (giantess), 36-7 
Gu5mund of Glsesisvellir (the Shining 
Fields), 32, 80 
Gutenbrunner, S., 122 
Gudbrand of Dalar, 244 
Gudmund the Mighty, 229 
Gudrun (Gjukadottir), 57, 182, 197-8, 

Gudrunarhvgt, 197 
Gudriinarkvida XI, 199 
Gylfaginning (Deceiving of Gylfi), 13, 
23-4, 54> *08, i47» *49 
Gylfi (King of the Swedes), 23-4, 187 
Gymir (giant), 174 

Hadding ( Hadingus , pi. Haddingjar), 30, 
173, 212-17, 219, 273 
Hdkon the Good, 12, 14, 52, 55, 84, 185, 
213, 241, 251, 259, 261, 282 
H£kon the Great, 15, 53, 60, 91, 128 
Hdkon Hdkonarson, 23 
Hakonarmdl (Lay of Hdkon), 14, 52-4, 
185, 213 

Hdleygjatal, 56, 191 
Hdlfan the Black, 192 
Halfdan Highleg, 254 
Halfs Saga ok Halfsrekka, 40 
Hall (of Sida), 222 
Hall (the godless), 264 
Hallfred (poet), 16, 38-9, 83, 169, 176, 
228, 247 

Hallfredar Saga, 228 
hamingja, 227, 230 
Hamel, A. G. van, 50 
Hamdir, 197, 202, 221 
Ham&ismdl, 12, 197 

Harald Bluetooth, 27 
Harald Finehair, I, 14, 53-4, 59, 67-8, 
126, 192-3, 240, 268 
Harald Gormsson, King of the Danes, 

Harald Greycloak, 193 
Harald Wartooth, 29, 31, 51, 53, 115, 
119, 206, 210-13, 215, 220 
Haraldskv&bi (Lay of Harald), 14, 67 
Harbardsljod, 1 1, 51, 78, 97, 210-11 
Hardgreip (Harthgrepa) , 213 
Hasdingi, 218 
Hasting (Hasten), 216 
Hatherus, 207 

Hdttatal (List of verse-forms), 22 
Hadar Saga (Saga of Hod), 114 
Hauk Erlendsson, 1 7 
Hauk Valdxsarson, 144 
Hauksbok, 139, 220, 233-4 
Haustlqng, 76-8, 81, 126-8, 132-4, 139, 
141, 186 

Havamal (Words of the High one, 
Cdinn), n-13, 36-7, 39, 42-4. 4^9, 
52, 72, 74, 209, 214, 267-8, 273, 278 
Hgedcyn, 120-1 
Heardingas, 171, 218-9 
Headobards, 210-n 

Heimdalargaldr (the Magic Song of 
Heimdall), 147-8 

Heimdall ( Heimddr , Heimdallr), 15, 49, 
55, 82, 107, 109, 129, 133, 140, I47~54> 

Heimskringla, 25-6, 30, 259, 262 
Heid ( Heidr ), 158-9 
Heidrek the Wise, King, 255 
Heidreks Saga, 20, 51, 53, 221-5, 239-40, 

Heidrun (goat), 54, 176 
Hel, 49, 60, 107, 109, 120, 128, 133, 140, 
215, 271, 279 

Helgakvida Hjgrvardssonar, 259 
Helgakvida Hundingsbana II, 47, 51, 58, 
73-4, 207-8, 237 
Helgi the Lean, 84, 88, 166 
Helgi Hjorvardsson, 1 1 
Helgi Hundingsbani, 9, 11, 21 47, 51, 
73-4, 199, 206, 208, 217, 219 
Helgi Trausti, 258 
Heliand, 284 

Hemra (mythical river), 80 

Hengest (Hengist), 70, 220 
Hercules (Barbatus, Magusanus, Saxa- 
nus), 103 
Herebeald, 120-1 
Heremod, 185 

Herm 65 , 57, 80, 107, no, 185, 189, 215 
Heroic Sagas, see Fomaldar Sogur 
Heusler, A., 33, 202 
Hillebrandt, A., 41 

Historia de antiquitate regum norwagensium, 

Historia Langobardorum, 72 
Historia Noroegiae, 46, 226, 253 
History of the Bishops of Hamburg, see Adam 
of Bremen 

Hjalti (Danish hero), 30 
Hjorleif, 232, 264-5 
Hladir, Jarls of (Hlada Jarlar), 56, 164 
Hlidskjdlf, 55, 63-4, 73, 149 
Hlod, King of the Huns, 5 1 
Hnitbjorg (mythical rock), 36-7 
Hnoss (daughter of Freyja), 159, 176 
Hoddmimisholt (mythical forest), 283 
Hcenir, 56, 127-8, 132, 138-9, 141-2, 
156, 277 

hof (temple), 240, 241, 243, 251 

hofgydja (temple-priestess), 172, 261 

Hofler, O.., 60, 199 

Hofstadir (Temple-steads), 240-1, 243 

Hgfudlausn (Head-ransom), 37 

Hogni (Hagen), 202-3 

Hollander, L. M., 31 

Hora galles, 98 

hgrgr (shrine), 178, 239-41 

Horn (Hgm, goddess), 3, 178 

Horsa, 70, 220 

Hod ( Hgdr ), 32-3, 106, 108-11, 112-15, 
118-19, 121, 124, 133, 140, 143, 146, 
202, 211, 281 

Hrafnkell Freysgodi, 19, 65, 167, 249 
Hrafnkels Saga , 19-20, 167, 254 
HrafnsmM (Words of the Raven), 14, 59 
Hreidmar, 138, 200 
Hrfmfaxi (Frost-maned), 5 
Hrimgrimnir (Frost-masked), 174 
hrim^ursar (frost-giants), 170, 177 
Hring, 51, 212 
Hringhomi (ship), 107 
Hrdlf Kraki, 20, 30, 31, 87, 220, 264 
Hrdlfs Saga Kraka, 31 ~ 

Hrdlf of Sk&lmarnes, 21 
Hromund Gripsson, 21, 219 
Hrongvid (viking), 21 
Hrungnir (giant), 15, 76-7, 176 
Hrym (giant), 140 

Huginn (raven), 54, 57-8, 142, 229, 258 
Hunding, King of the Swedes, 2x5-16 
Husdrdpa (House-lay), 15, 82, 109, 128-9, 

Huskarlahvgt (Incitement of Housecarles), 

Hvergelmir (mythical well), 275, 279 
Hymir (giant), 181 

Hymiskmda, 76, 8x-2, xoi, 132, 137, 181 
Hyndluljdd , 52, 56, 129, 176, 178, 185, 
220, 239-40 

Ibn Fadlan (Fozlan), 8, 215, 272 
Ibn Rustah, 253, 272 
Ibor (Lombard), 72 
Indra, 41, 76, 103-4, 200, 204 
Ing, 156, 165, 170-3, 218 
Ingel, 210 

Ingimund the Old, 248 
Ingjald (Ingellus), 166, 209-10 
Ingdlf (settler of Iceland), 264-5 
Ingvaz, 191 
Irmin, 62, 102 
Irminsul, 102, 246 
Istraz, 191 

fvaldi (black elf, dwarf), 137, 234 
Idunn, 15, 127-8, 132-4, 164, 175, 180, 

JAmsaxa (giantess), 77, 144 

J 61 (Yule), 61 

Jomsborg vikings, 259 

J6n Loptsson, 21, 22 

Jordanes, 7, 26, 46, 73, 190, 197, 252 

Jormunrekk, 197-8 

Jord (Earth), 55, 97, 104, 189 

Kalevala, 124 
Kalfsvisa, 124 
K&ra (heroine), 217-18 

Kdmlkjdd, 21, 217 
Ketill Hcengr, 264 
Kirby, W. F., 123 
Kkeber, F., 12 1 
Knutsdrdpa, 255 


Kormak (Icelandic poet), 77, in, 282 
Kristni Saga, 89, 237, 250, 261 
Kuhn, H., 117 

Kvasir, 35, 39-40, 139, 156-7; 160 

Landdisasteinar (Stones of the land 
disir) , 225 

Landnamab&k , 17, 84, 86-8, 232, 238-9, 
241, 243, 254, 261, 264 
landveettir, 225, 232-3, 237 
Larusson, Olafur, 183 
Laxdcela Saga, 109 
Lay of Eirlk, see Eiriksmdl 
Lay of Hakon see Hakonarmal 
Lay of Hildebrand, 9 
Lsevateinn (the guileful twig), 132, 136 
Legendary Saga of St Olaf, 247 
Lemminkainen (Finnish hero), 118, 122 
Lenno (Hlenni), 207 
Libellus Islandorum ( tslendingabok ), 17, 

Lindquist, S., 245 
Liser (viking), 214, 216 
Litr (dwarf), 107 
ljosalfar, 231 
Ljodahdttr, 30 
Ljosvetninga Saga, 1 5 1 
Ljodatal (list of songs), 1 1 
Lofn (goddess), 189 
Logajwre, 100 

Lokasenna (Flyting of Loki), 10, 1 3> 97; 
109, 130-2, 139-4°; *59; I ^ 2> I ’?°» *74; 
185, 188-g, 284 
Loka-tattur, 141 
Loker, 214 

Loki, io-ii, 15, 23, 38, 55-6, 60, 79, 82, 
106, 108-14, 126-48, 154, 162, 164, 
180, 185-6, 226, 234, 280-1, 284 
Lodur, 56, 142-4; 277 
Lug (Irish hero), 160-1, 181 

Macdonell, A. A., 41 
Mac Datho’s Pig, Story of, 153 
Macgnimartha Finn, 203 
Magni (son of Thor), 77, 283 
Magnus Bareleg, King, 22 
Magnus the Blind, King, 148 
Magnus, Bishop of Skalaholt, 29 
Magnus, Olaus, 61 
Magnusson, E., 193 

Mdlahattr, 85 
Mdlshattakviz'di, 51 
Mannus, 191 

Mardqll (or MarpQll), 1 53, 178 
Marduk, 76, 200 
Maringer, J., 3 
Martin, St, Life of, 95 
megingjardar (belt of Thor), 85 
Melabok, 17 

Meldos (Celtic god?), 102 

Mes-Gegra, King, 152-3 

Mimameid ( Mimameidr ) see Yggdrasill 

Mimir, 63, 142-3, 149-50, 156, 279 

Mimung (sword), 204 

Mistilteinn (sword), 116 

Mithotyn (magician), 184 

Midgard, 13, 75, 1 35» 2 75 

Midgardsorm, 75, 128 

Mjollnir (Thor’s hammer), 75, 79, 81-2, 

*37; 233; 283 
Mogk, E., 109 
Morris, William, 193 
Modi (son of Thor), 283 
Muninn (Odinn’s raven), 54, 57-8, H 2 > 
230, 258 

Murphy, G., 203 

Muspell, 132, 140, 275-6, 281, 284 

Naglfar (ship),. 281, 284 
Nanna Nepsdottir, 106-7, 1 *2-15 
Nari (Narfi), 133, 140, 226 
Narts, 146 

Ndsheimr (World of Death), 57 
Ndstrqnd (Shore of corpses), 280 
Neckel, G., 117 

Nerthus, 7, 156, 165, 167, 1 73~4> *77> 
236, 246, 254, 262 
Nestorian Chronicle, 7 
Nibelunc, 202 
Ffibelungenlied, 198, 203-4 
Niflhel ( Niflheimr ), 4g, 109, 135, 271, 275 
Niflungar, 201-3, 234 
Nine Herbs Charm, 70 
Nidhogg, 279-80 
Najall, 1 3 1, 229 
Njals Saga, 60, 8g, 131, 222 
Njord, n, 18, 26, 30, 43, 52, 55, 56, 65- 
77, 86-90, 100, 134, 156-7; *62-5, 
172, 174-5, 182, 184, 211, 215-7, 236, 
25b 257, 259 



Noatun (Place of ships, harbour), 163-5 
Nordal, S., 69, 282 

N dregs Konunga Tal (List of the Kings of 
Norway), 22 
Noma-Gests Pattr, 209 
Nordri (dwarf), 234 
Nuadu (Irish hero), 123, 160, 181 

Odainsakr (field of eternal life), 32 
Odd Snorrason, 90-1, 272 
Oddaverjar, 22 
Oisfn (Irish hero), 204 
Olaf the Elf, ig4, 231 
Olaf the Peacock, 109, 248 
Olaf, St, 16, 18, 30, 48, go- 1, 193-4, 230, 
247; 256-7, 265-6 
Olaf the Stout (Digri), 194 
Olaf Tr6telgja (Wood-cutter), 46, 192, 

Olaf Tryggvason, 16, 18, 28, 32, 38, 80, 
82-3, 9°-*, *47-9; *94; 223, 228, 244, 
247-8, 266, 272 
Old English Chronicle, 59 
Old English Runic Poem, 170-1 
Olo, 207, 209 
Ollerus (Ull), 184 

Olrik, A., 27-30, 40, 98, 144-5, 283 ' 
Olsen, M., 2, 10, 54, 64, 66, 92, 1 16, 120, 
174, 178 

O’Rahilly, T. F., 203 
Qrboda see Aurboda 
Origo gentis Langobardortim , 72 
Orkneyinga Saga, 22, 53, 60 
Orlyg (settler of Iceland), 88 
Orvar-Odd (Arrow-Odd), 229, 264 
05 ( 6dr ), 176, 183 

Odinn, 2, 9-13, 16, 25-6, 31, 33, 38-74, 
77; 84-5, 90, 93, 95, 100, 103-5, *°7~ 
nt, 113-15, 118-19, 121-2, 125, 127- 
*34; *37-46, 149-56, 158-9, 161-4, 

1 66, 1 68-9, 1 76-7, 181-5, 1 87-8, 
igo-2, 198, 201-2, 204-17, 224, 229- 
3°; 233-4, 236-7, 246, 246-9, 251-5, 
258-259; 261, 263-4, 267, 269, 275, 

Odrcerir (heart-stirrer), 36-7 
Odinsdagr (Wednesday), 73 
Ofcon (Odinn), 95 

Passio et Vita Waldevi, 59 

Patrick, Bishop, 87 

Patrick’s Fjord (Patreksfjordr), 87 

Paulus Diaconus, 72-3 

Perkunas, 96-7 

Perun, 96-7 

Phol, 124-5 

Pliny, the Elder, 7 

Procopius, 46, 252, 254 

Pytheas, 7 

Ragnar Lodbrok, 15, 20, 59, 255 
Ragnarok (Doom of the gods), 9-10, 23, 
53-4, 60, 64, 76, 1 10- u, 1 18, 127, 
132, 140, 142, 144, 145, 147-9, *52, 

Ragnarsdrdpa (Lay of Ragnar), 15, 75-6, 
185, 188, 197 

Ragnars Saga Lodbrdkar, 256 
Ragnhild (Regnilda), 214-6 
Raos, 218 
Raptos, 218 
Rati (gimlet?), 36-7 
Reginn, 203-4 
Reginsmdl, 132, 138, 204, 254 
Regnaldus, 209 

Rerum Danicarum Fragmenta, 209 
Revelation, 223, 231 
Rig (Rigr), 150-2 
Rtgspula, 13, 1 50- 1 
Rimbert, 7, 195 

Rind (Rindr, Rinda ), 33, 55, UO, 113 
Rosomoni, 197 
Ross, A. S. C., 1 19 
Runatals Pattr, 37, 42, 49 
Runic Poem (Icelandic), 71 
Rydberg, V., 103 

Salgofnir (cock), 215, 273 
Salomon and Saturn, 71, 99 
Saxnot, 100 

Saxo Grammaticus, 21, 27-34, 51, 53; 
78, 80, 82, 106, 112-16, 138, 169, 170, 
173, 182, 184, 188, 19 1, 206, 209-10, 

Saeming, 56, 164, 191 
Siemund Sigfusson, 17, 22 
Schroder, F. R., 117-18, 122-3 
Scylfingas, 62, 64 
Seaxnet, see Saxnot 


Second Lav of Pr 1 
Helga Kvida Hundm g sbani see 

S «o/d M^feh^ 11 

1 88 g Charm, 73, 122-5, 

sSTifir^- *» 

Shetdig^H”^’ 65 ’ '59-60, 175, 177 
SjMja (cow), & 
oif (wife 0 f Th6r) ^ n o 
* 77 , 182, 230 77 ’ 985 I3 3 ’ J 37 , *?o, 

^ighvat (Si^t t , 

,230-1, 2 5 f^ 5 Icelandic poet), 48, 

h =™). 52 - 3 , 61, 1 15, 

Strife (^S^JotU), 2 o, 

' 42 , .So, ,85 r * of S « r drrfa), Ia , 56, 

(mistress' of H , 

Sigurd (the TV. 1 Helg1 )’ 2I 7 
59-60, 76 g ° n ~ sIa y er ), 6, 9, 12, 4 L 
Sigurd (Hjprtr W J’ 120 > * 5 °, * 53 , *97 
Sigur 3 HlM^ Hart )* '99 

of Orkney, 6o 

S igyn( 4 =of L oi a , 3lr 'f 0 

Sznfjotli (Fitela\ k ’ ^ I27_8 > r 33 > * 4 ° 
Siward of North 5 \ 6 .°’ l8s ’ 200-1 

S feod ^X a ’ 5 ^° 

Skaldatal (List % n , 

Skdl dskaparmdl 212 

35 , xo 9 , x 3 o j^o eCh f Poetr y)> 22 ’ 2 5 : 

Skarphedinn !$ 6 ’ l6o > 169 

S ^MdauX Ce ‘“t Ch T 0) ’ 13 ' 

fkirmsmdl, q 7 
Skidbladnir M?;’ * 174 ~ 5 ’ l8? ’ 237 

Skjold, 56, 4 T P) > x 37 , * 73 , 234 
Skjoldungar, o 2 re 
Skjgldunga Sa ’ 101 

8k ^ d (goddeV of °S 3Ij 212 
Sletpnir i'Os- , Iate )» 280 

*29, i3 4 ~ 5 mriS horse )’ 33 , 48 , 56 - 7 ; 
^^f68^ tann i (C^ing-tusked, boar), 107. 

Snorri Godi, 18 

Snorri Sturluson, 3, 6, 8, 13, 15-18, 21- 
26, 30-x, 33, 35-7, 39-40, 43-4, 46, 
49-52, 54-58, 61-3, 76-9, 81, 84, 85-6, 
98, 104, 106-15, 118-19, 12 1, 127-38, 
140-3, 146-50, 153-6, 162-4, 169-70, 
*73, *76-7, 180-2, 185, 187-9, *9*~3, 
197-8, 209, 226, 231-5, 238-41, 247, 
249, 251, 253, 255-6, 259, 265, 271, 
275-9, 283-6 

Sggnbrot (Fragmentary History of Kings 
of Denmark), 29, 142 
Sgrla Pdttr, 140 
Sorli, 197, 202, 221 
Soslan (or Sosryko), 146 
stafgardr, 237-8 

Starkad, 29, 35, 44-5, 68, 174, 205-11 
Starkad Aludreng, 208 
Steingerd (mistress of Kormdk), 282 
Steinunn (poetess), 16, 89 
Steinvor (priestess), 261 
Storms, G., 70 

Storvirkr (Man of Great Deeds), 205 
Strom, F., 257 

Stromback, D., 19, 83-4, 223 

Sturla Thdrdarson, 1 7, 52 

Styrbjarnar Pdttr, 47 

Styrmir Kdrason, 168 

Surt {Surtr, fire giant), 38, 275, 281, 284 

Suttung (giant), 36-7, 39 

Sudri (dwarf), 234 

Svanhild (Swan-Hild), 197-8 

Svartdlfaheimr (World of Black Elves), 235 

Svadilfari (stallion), 56, 134-5 

Svdva (heroine), 74 

Sveinn Tjuguskegg, 259 

Sverrir (King of Norway), 29 

Syrdon, 146 

Tacitus, 7, 27, 73, 102, 199, 219, 236, 
246, 249, 252, 260-1, 271-2 
Tanais (river), 156 
Tanfana , 236 

Taranis (Celtic god?), 102 
Thangbrand (missionary), 16, 89-go 
Theodoric (King of Goths), igo 
Theodricus (Theodoricus, Norwegian 
historian), 18 
Thidrandi, 221-7, 256 
Thjalfi, 77-8, 82, 132, 137 



Thjari (giant), 127, 130, 133-4, *39, 257 
Thjdddlf of Hvin, 14-15, 26, 68, 76, 12&- 
129, 142, 186 

Thokk (giantess), 107, 111, 120 
Thor, 2, 5, 10— 1 1, 13, 15-16, 20, 25, 32- 
33, 4*, 44-5, 50, 55, 67, 69, 73, 75-99, 
xoi, 104-5, *x>7, **3, *28, 130-2, 
*34-5, *37-9, *44, *5*, 153-4, *66, 
168-9, *81, 183, 189-90, 200, 204-7, 
209-11, 215, 220, 233-5, 237-8, 240-1, 
246-51, 261-2, 281 

Thorbjom Dfsarskdld (Poet of the Dx’s), 
76, 85, 89 

Thorbjom Hornklofi, 14, 59, 63, 67, 175 
Thorfinn Karlsefni, 89 
Thorfinn, Jarl of Orkney, 282 
Thorgerd Horgarbrud, 247 
Thorgrim Freysgodi (Priest of Freyr), 
166-7, 224 

Thorhadd (settler of Iceland), 260 
Thorhall, 89, 120, 222-3 
Thorkell the Tall, 252, 256 
Thorkillus (see Thurkillus) 

Thorleif (poet), 53 

Thormdd (Icelandic poet), 30, 1 1 1, 257 
Thdrdlf Clubfoot, 269-70 
Thdrdlf Mostrarskegg (settler of Ice- 
land), 87, 220, 240, 248 
Thorsteinn Baejarmagn, see Porsteins 

Thorvald (Icelandic missionary), 261 
Thorvald Tasaldi, 266 
Thord Freysgodi (Freyr’s priest), 166, 

Thrud (daughter of Th6r), 77 

Thrudheim (World of Might), 75 

Thrudvangar (Fields of Might), 75, 78 

Thrym (giant), 10, 177 

Thrymheim, 164 

Thunaer (Th6r), 100 

Thund (Pundr, Odinn), 49 

Thunor (Lunor), g8, 100 

Thurid (priestess), 172 

Thurkillus, 31-2, 80, 138 

Tiermes, see Diermes 

Tiw (Tig), 182 

Tomar, 94 

Torf-Einar, Jarl of Orkney, 53, 254 
Tuatha Dd Danann, 160-1 
Tuirenn (children of), 175, 186 

Tuisto, 27, 191 
Tuonela (swan of), 1 18 
Tvastr, 104 

Tylenses (men of Iceland), 28 

Tyr, 28, 63, 73, 100, 103, 1 61, 180-4, *90 

Tyrfing (sword), 234 

Pdttr af Ragnars sonitm, 255 
Pidreks Saga, 198-200, 202-4 
Porbjdm Hornklofi, 54 (see Thorbjom 

Porgils Saga ok Hafiida, 21 
Porgrimspula, 124 

P&rsdrdpa (Lay of Thdr), 15, 3 x, 7 &~9, 
85, 98, 128, 134 

Porsteins Pdttr. Bwjarmagns, 3 1—2, 80 
Porvalds Pdttr Vidfgrla, 237, 250 
Prymskvida, 9, 13, 81, 132, 137, 144, 154, 
170, 177 

Ukko, 98 
Ulfljdt, 260 

Ulf Uggason, 76, 109, 128, 147 
U1I (Ullr, Ullitin), 3, 66, 164, 176, 182-4, 

Urdarbrunnr (Well of Fate), 246, 277, 

Utgardaloki (Utgardilocus), 82, 137-8 
tJtgard, 138 

Vafthrudnir (Vqfprudnir), giant, 10, 49, 

1 10 

Vafprudnismdl (Words of Vafthrudnir), 5, 
*°, *3, 49, **o, 234, 271, 275-7, 283, 

Valdemar the Great, King, 27-8 
Valgrind (Grill of the Fallen), 54 
Valholl (Valhglt), 10, 14, 33, 52, 54-5, 
57, 67, 75, 77, 84, 101, 1 15, 135, 176, 

Vdli (son of 6dinn), 55, 64, no, 114, 
139-40, 283 

Vanadfs (Goddess of the Vanir, Freyja), 
*36, 159, *75, 225-6, 231 
Vanaheimr or Vanaland, 156-7 
Vanir, 26, 35, 40, 47, 55, 103, 136, 1417-2, 
*54, (56-63, 165, 168, 170-2, 175-6 
Vdpnfirbinga Saga, 261 



Var (goddess), 189 
Varuna, 103 
Varus, 199 

Vatnsdala Saga, 167, 229 
V6 (brother of Odinn), 55-6, 184, 188, 
275 , 277 
Vigeirr, 238 

Veilekla (Gold Dearth), 15, 53, 60 
Vercelli Codex, 1 19 
Verdandi (Fate goddess), 280 
Vestri (dwarf), 234 
Vetrlidi Sumarlidason, 75 85, 89, 211 
Viga-Glum, 69 

Viga-Glurns Saga, 165-6, 168, 221, 252, 
255 - 6 

Vigfuss of Vors, 69-70 
Vlkar, King, 44-6, 48, 118, 206-7, 21 x > 

Vili (brother of Odinn), 55-6, 184, 188, 

275, 2 77 

Vimur (mythical river), 79-80 
Vitazgjaji (the certain giver), 69-70, 

Vita Anskarii, 7 

Vidar (son of Odinn), 64, 281, 283 
Vidofnir (cock), 132 
Volla (Folia), 124, 188 
Volos, 96 

Vglsa Pattr (Story of Volsi), 256 
Volsi (Vglsi), 96, 201, 231, 257-8, 263 
Volsungar, 53, 56, 61, 200-1, 212, 234 
Vglsunga Saga, 20, 197-8, 200-2, 204 

Vqluspa (Sibyl’s Prophecy), 9, 12-13, 23, 

45, 49, 63, 76, 97, 101-2, 1 08-1 x, 115, 

119, 129, 1 3 1-2, *35-40, 143, 150, 
*54“5, *57, *59, *70, *7&-7, 215, 2 34, 
275-7, 280-4 

Voluspa (Short), 129, 133-4, *37, *47, 

Vries, J. de, 154, 184, 209 

Wads (Walses eafera), 20 1 
Wtslsing ( Vglsungr ), 201 
Widsith, 31 

Wilfred (missionary), 93 
Winnili, 72 

Wodan, Woden, see Odinn 
Wulfstan (homilist), 95 

Vdalir (Yew-dales), 182 
Yggdrasill (tree of fate), 65, 75, 116, 124, 
132, 148-9, 183, 246, 277, 279, 281 
Ylfagescot, 232 

Ymir (giant), 10, 234, 275-8 
Ynglinga Saga, 26, 35, 40, 43-4, 46, 61-2, 
142, 156, 158, 163, 169, 187 
Ynglinga Tal (List of the Ynglingar), 14, 
20, 26, 46, 56, 128, 192, 226, 234 
Ynglingar, 56, 62, 68, 91-2, 94, 100, 170, 

Yngvi (Freyr), 26, 169 

Yngvi, King of the Turks, 56, 163 

Zurvan, 278